Obama to college students: Republicans are 'banking on' low voter turnout

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — President Obama told a crowd of college students on Wednesday that Republicans are “banking” on low voter turnout in November and hoping that the key demographic, which catapulted him to the presidency in 2008, will just stay home this time around.

Speaking to the crowd near the University of Virginia, Obama told the students that his opponents are relying on a suppressed vote as part of their strategy and that their voice matters now more than ever.

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“You’ve got the same stream of cynics who are telling you that change is impossible, you can’t make a difference, you won’t be able to close the gap between how things are and how they should be,” Obama said, adding that Republicans believe, “You were naive last time when you had all that hope and change stuff.”

Republicans, Obama continued, “will tell you how bad things are over and over again, and they'll helpfully add it's all Obama's fault. And what they're hoping is that, even if you don't vote for them, because you know what they peddle doesn't work, what they do hope is that you get so discouraged that you just stay home.”

“That’s what they’re banking on, “ Obama said. “I don’t believe that. I don’t think you believe that.”

Obama’s speech on Wednesday marked the last time he will appear on the stump before presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney addresses a national audience before the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

Refusing to cede the limelight to his opponent, Obama took jabs at Romney on a variety of issues, from energy to welfare.

He lambasted Romney — who on Monday called Obama’s proposal for emission standards “extreme.”

“It doesn't seem extreme to me to want to build more fuel-efficient care,” he said. “Maybe the steam engine is more his speed.”

The crowd seemed to relish that zinger, just as they did when he decried Romney's ad on welfare.

“Every outlet said, this is just not true,” Obama said. “And they were asked about it and they said — one of their campaign workers said, 'we won't have the fact checkers dictate our campaign.' ”

Aides said Obama did not watch any part of the GOP convention, even as the president — for the second day in a row — called it a “pretty entertaining show.”

But Obama had “other things to do,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters on Wednesday.

“I was with him and afterward he was working on his briefing books and reading a lot of material, watching sports, but not watching the convention,” Carney said.