Romney courts youth vote, sides with Obama on student loans

Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign on Tuesday launched a concerted effort to reach college students by blaming President Obama for the rising costs of college tuition and bleak employment prospects for new graduates.

“Half of my generation didn’t get up and go to a job this morning,” College Republican National Committee Chairman Alex Schriver said on a conference call hosted by Romney’s campaign.

ADVERTISEMENT
Young voters, including college students, are an important voting bloc, and one that Obama famously motivated in 2008 when 66 percent of young voters cast their ballot for the then-Illinois senator. One in two new graduates are jobless or underemployed in 2012, according to a data survey released by The Associated Press this week, a statistic repeatedly brought up in the call.

Romney surrogate and former Sen. Hank Brown (Colo.) said that one reason Romney has a competitive edge in 2012 is because, in comparison with 2008’s GOP nominee, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the party has a “younger, more dynamic Republican candidate” this cycle, he told reporters.

Romney began to court the youth vote in earnest this week, beginning Monday by siding with Obama on the need to pass an extension on federal subsidies to undergraduate Stafford loans.

“I also hope the president and Congress can pass the extension responsibly, that offsets its cost in a way that doesn't harm the job prospects of young Americans,” Romney said in a statement. “Ultimately, what young Americans want and need is a new president who will champion lasting and permanent policy changes that both address the rising cost of a college education and get our economy really growing again."

Affordable higher education has been a major talking point for Obama’s campaign, with the president launching a tour of college campuses this week to urge Congress to pass the extension. In July, the interest rates on federally subsidized Stafford loans will double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent unless Congress acts.

"Nearly seven and half million students will end up owing more on their loan payments,” Obama warned during his weekly address last weekend.

Many Republicans in Congress have indicated resistance to the extension, warning the government cannot afford the subsidies and that the program only increases the federal debt. But Romney and his surrogates urged a “temporary” extension to offer relief to college students and allow the GOP to focus on the “bigger issues” of fixing the economy and getting the government out of the student loan business.

In 2010, the government stopped federally subsidizing private student loans, effectively taking control of the student-loan market. Romney supporters on the call sought to tie government interference to the rise in tuition costs in an effort to reframe the subject as collateral damage to Obama’s overarching economic policies.

“It’s a short-term extension that the president calls for, it would carry it through the rest of the year. In the grand scheme of things, we shouldn’t allow issues like this to bog down the bigger agenda, which is how do we create jobs in this country?” Rep. Aaron Schock (Ill.) told reporters on the conference call, adding he would support the extension but could not predict what his colleagues would do.

“If we can come up with the pay-fors and there’s not a negative effect in the budget," he said, "it will be easier to convince people to support it that might not otherwise be inclined to.”

Obama's campaign shot back that Romney was paying "lip service on student loans."

"If Mitt Romney truly believes that Congress should take action to prevent student loan interest rates from going up, then he should show leadership and call on Congressional leaders like Speaker Boehner and Rep. Paul Ryan to support the President’s proposal because the only thing standing in the way of young people being able to afford college is the Republican Congress," said campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith.

The Romney campaign clearly hopes it can capture any fear that the youth vote feels about the future and any disappointment felt by young people who supported Obama in 2008 — and turn both into votes in November. The conference call previewed the campaign's strategy to use post-graduate unemployment as their biggest tool; Schriver also noted that a larger percentage of his generation has moved back in with their parents post-college than since the 1950s.

The Romney campaign also sought to spread the word through social media by releasing a new infographic Tuesday illustrating some of the statistics facing college students.

"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," Romney said Monday on the campaign trail in Pennsylvania.

This report was updated at 12:43 p.m.