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Jobs, Student Loan Help Focus of Obama, Romney Pitches to Young Voters

Hoping to appeal to youth voters, President Obama spoke Tuesday on the rising cost of higher education while Mitt Romney criticized his record on job creation. Gwen Ifill, the Democratic National Committee’s Patrick Gaspard and the College Republican National Committee’s Alex Schriver discuss campaign outreach to young voters.

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    As they move to boost enthusiasm for the general election, President Obama and likely Republican nominee Mitt Romney have each stepped up their efforts to woo young voters.



    The president's visit today to the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, was billed as an official White House policy speech.

    But, as the president heads to a string of campuses this week, he is also clearly courting the young voters who rallied for him four years ago. Today's message, tailored for his audience, was a pitch to hold down the cost of student loans.


    No matter what it is, no matter what field you're in, you're going to have to engage in life-long learning. That's the nature of the economy today, and we've got to make sure that's affordable. That's good for the country; it's good for you.

    At this make-or-break moment for the middle class, we've got to make sure that you're not saddled with debt before you even get started.



    Unless Congress acts by the 1st of July, tuition loan rates could double for more than seven million students.

  • MAN:

    The next president of the United States.


    Republican Mitt Romney, breaking with some in his party, has also urged Congress to extend the lower rates. But, campaigning in Pennsylvania Monday, he said younger voters have broader concerns that extend beyond the cost of college.


    I think young voters in this country have to vote for me if they're really thinking of what's in the best interest of the country and what's in their personal best interest, because the president's policies have led to extraordinary statistics.

    And when you look at 50 percent of the kids coming out of college today can't find a job or can't find a job which is consistent with their skills, how in the world can you be supporting a president that's led to that kind of an economy?


    Romney campaign officials say young people have been hurt under the Obama administration, with an unemployment rate of 16.4 percent, double the rate for all Americans.

    Polls show the president enjoys a wide margin of support among young voters. In 2008, Mr. Obama carried 18-to-29-year-olds by almost 2-1, and a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll gave him a 60 percent to 34 percent advantage over Romney among voters 18-to-34.

    But some of that enthusiasm has waned. Just 45 percent say they have a high interest in the fall election, down from 63 percent four years ago. A separate Harvard University study underscored how youthful support could shift by November. Fully 30 percent say they are undecided.

    We have two views on how the campaigns reach out to young voters this year and how strategy has changed since 2008. Patrick Gaspard is the executive director of the Democratic National Committee. And Alex Schriver is chairman of the College Republican National Committee.

    Welcome to you both.

    So you just saw this long gap, Alex Schriver. How do you close this gap when we're saying that President Obama leads Mr. Romney 61 percent to 33 percent?

    ALEX SCHRIVER, chairman, College Republican National Committee: Right.

    Well, I think's a misconception out there that the Democrats have a lock on the young voters. That's not true. Republicans have won the youth vote three times in the modern era. We've tied it twice more. Now, obviously, 2008 was an anomaly. Obama won the youth vote 66-32, 2-1.

    But we've already seen that number come back in the midterm elections in 2010. There are eight million new voters that have come of age since 2008. And these are young people who saw their older brothers and sisters get caught up in hope and change in 2008 and are sitting here three-and-a-half years later not better off.

    And so as this election continues and as our candidates up and down the ballot can talk about jobs and the economy, as you heard there, 16 percent unemployment among young people in this country, half of my generation didn't get up and go to a job this morning. Those are real numbers that affect young people. And so when they get to that ballot box in November, that's what they're going to be voting on. And we're confident that they will come to our side.


    Does that — Patrick Gaspard, does explain what seems to be fading enthusiasm, at least compared to 2008? I think I saw a number today that only 5 percent of young voters showed up on Super Tuesday, which was the big election day of the year so far.

  • PATRICK GASPARD, Democratic National Committee:

    Well, of course, Super Tuesday was dominated by the Republican Party and there's been a tremendous lack of enthusiasm for that entire field, including for the front-runner in the party, Mitt Romney.

    I would remind your viewers that, in 2008, we were in the midst of a historic primary contest between Sen. Obama and then Senator Clinton, and of course there was an intense reaction amongst young people to the eight years of George W. Bush. Clearly, we're not engaged in such a primary on the Democratic side.

    But we are seeing a tremendous amount of enthusiasm across the country in campuses every time we go out and have conversations about the things that this president has done to help move young people up the economic ladder. For instance, when we go out, young people know that this president doubled the size of Pell Grants and the number of Pell Grant recipients in this country.

    They are rightly proud that he made good on his commitment to pull us out of the combat mission in Iraq, which was a compelling issue for young people at the time. And they are also thrilled that this president has made it possible for 2.6 million young people to continue to be on the health insurance of their parents, which of course is tremendously important in these tough economic times.


    What about those unemployment numbers, twice as many young people. . .


    Well, Gov. Romney and now Alex cited a report that has some dubious statistics.

    I would remind everybody that for. . .


    Bureau of Labor Statistics report.


    Well, actually, the Bureau of Labor Statistics made it abundantly clear that for college graduates who are 24 years old and have been out of college for a year, unemployment actually dropped 3 percentage points for young folks.

    So I think it's clear that we have quite a ways to go yet in this country, and Americans are still struggling through what was the greatest recession since the Great Depression. But we all should remember where we have come from and where we're headed.


    Alex Schriver, what about the issue that it seems that Gov. Romney and President Obama agree on, this issue of tuition costs?

    Now, we know by all means all these young people we're talking about aren't in college. But does that resonate?



    There's one trillion dollars of student loan debt in this country. That's more than credit card and auto loan debt combined. And how both parties face that is going to be an incredibly important issue this fall. The average student loan, that's $22,000, is at an all-time high.

    And you saw Gov. Romney came out yesterday in support of a temporary extension on the interest rate subsidy.


    How do you pay for it?


    Well, that's exactly why — that's exactly why you have seen some dissension among the Republicans. And the media wants to paint a difference among Gov. Romney's position and some House congressional leaders.

    And I don't think there is a difference. And we heard from Congressman Schock this morning it's about having a responsible plan to pay for this. This is a $6 billion subsidy. And one side of the aisle says we can do this if our job rate is so low that we need to find a way to help young people for a temporary amount of time. And the other side says let's just continue this on and on.

    But this is a bill in 2007 that then Sen. Obama missed two key votes on. This only comes up in an election year, temporary solution to get him reelected, and that's what we have seen over and over.


    Well, Gwen, I think that Alex is absolutely right that this is a moment of crisis and therefore an opportunity for real leadership from both parties.

    And it's great to hear that Gov. Romney supports this extension. However, let's also be clear that he's embraced the Ryan budget, which slashes Pell Grants and locks in the 6 percent interest rate for college loans. So I think there's a bit of contradiction in Gov. Romney's current position.

    And to your point, Alex, of course, Sen. Obama, Sen. Clinton, Sen. Biden and Sen. Dodd all missed that vote in 2007 because they were engaged in that campaign. But young people know that this is a president who's increased student aid and he's doing all that he can right now to make certain that they have opportunities going forward.


    Right now, you have a lot of young voters who are saying I don't know if I'm going to vote at all. I'm not that moved by this.

    What do you do between now and the fall to make those numbers break, for the Republicans?


    Well, it's about coming together behind a candidate at the top of the ticket.

    We're just getting through our primary process. Obviously, it looks like Gov. Romney is going to be our candidate. And so, as he gets out on campuses more, and I have been encouraged as the leader of the nation's oldest and largest youth political organization, with 250,000 members on 1,800 campuses, to see the efforts of Gov. Romney and other candidates running for Senate and House to reach out to young voters.

    One of the things that we saw in 2008 was how important the youth vote was. They made up 17 percent of the electorate in 2008. That's up from 14 percent in 2004. So this is obviously a demographic that's going to receive attention from both sides.

    And as long as, you know, we continue to spread our message of jobs and the economy, which, by the way, is the number-one issue to 75 percent of young people, then we're confident that there will be enthusiasm, they will see the effects of the last three-and-a-half years of this administration that it's had on them personally and come out enthusiastically for Republican candidates and for Gov. Romney.


    So that the enthusiasm will cut the other way this time.

    You pointed out it was a once in a lifetime for a lot of people, a historic event four years ago. How do you get people to say, well, whatever, we tried that, now it feels the same — in fact, I feel worse. I feel like I'm still living in mom's basement.


    Well, Gwen, as you noted at the top of this report, there continues to be quite a gap between support for President Obama and support for Gov. Romney amongst 18-to-29-year-olds. And that's because young people working with this president have accomplished a great deal, from the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, to the end of the combat mission in Iraq, to passing critical health care, and the passage of student loan reform.

    So I believe that young people who have worked with us every step of the way to get us on the path to meaningful, lasting reform and change are going to show up in November to reaffirm their own hard work, their accomplishments and. . .


    It's what you would all like to see. But here's an example, a real world example. Ron Paul brought a lot of young people out this year. They all came to his rallies. They're still coming to his rallies, and yet he hasn't won a single primary. Are we talking about voters who are excited, but not actually voting?


    Look, Gov. Romney was able to win the youth vote in Florida and Nevada. And he's done so since. And those were still competitive primaries with a crowded field.

    So to say that Gov. Romney can't connect with the youth is just inaccurate. Obviously, Congressman Paul has run a successful campaign in getting new supporters out. And we feel that those supporters that are coming out, listening to the conservative message, listening to Republican candidates will eventually come to us as well and Gov. Romney as — and Gov. Romney, too.


    Gwen, in 2008, we had a tremendous amount of youth activity, and as I said, a lot of that was in reaction to eight years of George W. Bush.

    But I think that, right now, young people are going to make their decisions based on substantive issues. They care about who's fighting for them on education, health care and on, of course, job creation. And I think at the end of the day as they assess what this president has done and the plans that he's laid forth for growing this economy and instilling a measure of fairness into our economy, and they contrast that to Governor Romney's record in Massachusetts and his adherence to the Tea Party code and the Ryan budget, that they will end up making — casting a vote for President Obama.


    We will come back later in the year and test and see how that's going for either of you.

    Patrick Gaspard of the Democratic National Committee, and Alex Schriver of College National Republicans, thank you both very much.


    Thank you.


    Thank you so much, Gwen.

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