White House targets Republican ‘Pledge’ and college voters in road trip

President Obama will make the House Republican “Pledge to America” his target this week as he embarks on a four-state swing just five weeks away from the midterm elections.

White House aides said Monday that Obama will use backyard conversations to highlight his differences with the pledge as he travels to the swing states of New Mexico, Wisconsin, Iowa and Virginia. All four states also offer a mix of toss-up House, Senate and gubernatorial races this fall.

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Obama called the pledge “irresponsible” on NBC’s “Today” show Monday morning, kicking off his criticism of the Republican plan in earnest.

Separately, on a Monday conference call with student journalists, Obama blasted Republican promises in the pledge to extend tax cuts for the rich, which the president said would result in a cut in student aid.

“That’s a big choice,” Obama said. “That has big consequences.”

White House aides said the president will take shots at the pledge at every stop this week.

The attacks will include arguments on education, taxes, the budget deficit and entitlement programs, with a different focus for each appearance.

The 21-page Republican pledge focuses on extending tax cuts and cutting spending, and would essentially gut much of the spending that Obama has pushed for since taking office. The GOP introduced the pledge last week as it heads to a midterm election where it hopes to make major gains or even win back the House and Senate majorities.

Obama starts his four-state tour on Tuesday in Albuquerque, N.M., where he will talk about his education initiatives and how Republicans want to “gut” his program of student loans. White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer said the GOP plan would reduce aid to 8 million college students.

Obama will turn his attention to the economy and the budget deficit in Des Moines on Wednesday, and will target the GOP’s desire to “return to the era of recklessness and irresponsibility,” Pfeiffer told reporters on a conference call.

Also on Wednesday, in Richmond, Va., Obama will talk about the “choice between Democrats and Republicans on taxes and deficits.”

“Let’s be very clear: If you like deficits, you will love the Republican plan,” Pfeiffer said.

In Richmond, Obama will focus on Social Security and Medicare, which the president will accuse Republicans of wanting to privatize.

Republicans did not include privatization of social programs in the pledge they unveiled last week in Virginia, but Pfeiffer said there is “evidence” that is what they want to do.

“If Republicans want to come out and take that off the table, then we’re certainly open to that,” Pfeiffer said.

The attacks on the pledge coincide with Obama’s efforts to bring to the polls young voters who turned out in large numbers for him in 2008.

Obama’s trip is targeting voters in swing-state college towns.

The president tailored his message to education on Monday, and he will attend a huge rally Tuesday at the University of Wisconsin. Vice President Biden will do the same at Penn State.

Obama and Biden’s trips to talk to college students is part of an administration-wide effort to turn out the youth vote.

Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk will also attend rallies at colleges on Tuesday.

Sebelius will be at the University of Maryland, Solis will be at California State-Los Angeles and Kirk will be at the North Carolina-Central University.

Previewing his message to college students, Obama told student journalists on Monday that while they might be disappointed by the political process since Obama took office, “you can’t sit it out.”

“You can’t suddenly just check in once every 10 years or so, on an exciting presidential election, and then not pay attention during big midterm elections where we’ve got a real big choice between Democrats and Republicans,” Obama said.

The president said he wants to “just … go speak to young people directly and remind them of what I said during the campaign, which was change is always hard in this country.”

“It doesn’t happen overnight,” Obama said. “You take two steps forward, you take one step back. This is a big, complicated democracy. It’s contentious. It’s not always fun and games.”

This story was posted at 1:51 p.m. and updated at 5:28 p.m. and 6:27 p.m.