Joe Hanel/Durango Herald
Joe Hanel/Durango Herald
BOULDER – President Barack Obama visited the University of Colorado campus Tuesday looking for young supporters.
He found them – thousands of them.
A noisy, young crowd filled most of the seats in the 11,000-capacity Coors Events Center to see the president on his fourth trip to Colorado since September.
The event had the feel of a sports matchup, with the crowd doing “the wave” as they waited for the president’s arrival.
Officially, Obama went on the road to press Congress to keep federal student loan interest rates at 3.4 percent. If Congress doesn’t act, rates on new loans will rise to 6.8 percent in July. Keeping rates low could cost $6 billion a year, according to The Associated Press.
“When a big chunk of every paycheck goes to loan debt, that’s not just tough on you, that’s not just tough on your families, that’s tough on the whole economy,” Obama said.
He also used the issue to draw a contrast with his likely Republican rival, Mitt Romney, even though he did not mention Romney by name. Obama and his wife, Michelle, both had steep student loan debts, he said.
“We only finished paying off our student loans eight years ago. Think about it – I’m the president of the United States,” Obama said, drawing laughter from the crowd.
Romney sought to take the issue off the table by stating his support for lower interest rates Monday.
But the scrap over student borrowing merely served as an opening line for the president’s courtship of young voters. In 2008, young voters turned out strongly for Obama, preferring him on a more than 2-to-1 margin over Republican John McCain.
Both campaigns are targeting young voters.
It’s a myth that young people don’t vote, said Alex Schriver, chairman of the College Republican National Committee.
“This is an incredibly important demographic. It does make up a large share of the electorate,” Schriver said.
Schriver spoke on a conference call the Romney campaign organized to counter Obama’s appearance and spread the message that young people would be better off economically with Romney.
Former U.S. Sen. Hank Brown, R-Colo., also joined the call and gave Obama an “F” for failing young people.
“Four years ago, the president was able to fool a number of our college students into supporting his campaign. The result has been the highest level of unemployment for young people in our nation’s history,” said Brown, a former president of CU.
Obama was more than half an hour late for his CU speech, thanks to a detour to The Sink, a bar that has been a favorite hangout for generations of Boulder students. Many people in the sweltering basketball arena were able to follow Twitter feeds with pictures from surprised bar patrons.
Although it was an official White House trip, it took the president through three important swing states.
Obama started the day at the University of North Carolina and taped Tuesday night’s episode of “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” before he arrived in Colorado.
He is scheduled to leave Colorado today for a final stop in Iowa before he returns to the White House.