DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Battleground states are not always neighbors. And for President Obama, yesterday was one of those days when a candidate stops in one and flies across most of the entire country to another. Mr. Obama was in Ohio and then Nevada, visiting college campuses. This morning he'll keep with the education theme at a high school near Las Vegas. The president has been highlighting steps he's taken to make higher education more affordable.
Here's NPR's Scott Horsley.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: How many students do we have here?
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Just over 3,000 people gathered on the outdoor quad at Capital University near Columbus, Ohio yesterday. Another 2,100 filled the student center at a community college in Reno, Nevada.
Huge campus rallies were a mainstay of Mr. Obama's 2008 campaign. The atmosphere is a little more subdued this time around. A lot of students are preoccupied with simply finding a job when they graduate. Mr. Obama jokes his opponents are eager to exploit that.
OBAMA: They say, well, you know what - yeah, Obama — Obama's, you know, he's grayer now, he's not as new and as fresh as he was in 2008, so young people, young people aren't going to turn out the same way.
HORSLEY: Mr. Obama is trying to reconnect with young voters by appealing not so much to their idealism as to their pocketbooks. He notes the average student who borrows money for college graduates $26,000 in debt, a burden he remembers all too well.
OBAMA: This is something Michelle and I know firsthand about. You know, I'm not speculating on this because we've been in your shoes.
HORSLEY: Mr. Obama reminded students that he boosted Pell grants, made it easier to repay student loans, and created a new college tax credit. He says making college more affordable is especially important at a time when so many good paying jobs require more than a high school diploma.
OBAMA: Unless you provide those rungs on the ladder of opportunity, young people who are more talented than we are may not get a shot. That's why I've made it a top priority of my presidency, and Ohio, that is something that is at stake in this election. That's part of the reason why November is so important.
HORSLEY: Although Republican presidential hopeful, Mitt Romney, also talks about the importance of a well-trained workforce, he and his running mate, Paul Ryan, have called for deep cuts in federal spending, which could affect programs like student aid. Mr. Obama mocked Romney for suggesting that struggling students shop around for a cheaper college or borrow money from their parents.
OBAMA: Not everybody has parents who have the money to lend.
HORSLEY: As he often does on these campaign trips, Mr. Obama is mixing big organized rallies with seemingly impromptu stops to mingle and shake hands with voters.
(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHATTER)
HORSLEY: At Sloopy's Diner on the campus of Ohio State University, dozens of students were enjoying a late breakfast on the last day before fall classes start. When Mr. Obama dropped by yesterday, he told a trio of incoming freshmen they remind him that his own daughters will be leaving for school in a few years, and he joked with a table of seniors about the benefits of sleeping in.
OBAMA: I assume at this point, though, you guys have arranged it so you don't have really early morning classes.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: No. I (unintelligible) I've got an 8:00 a.m. class tomorrow.
HORSLEY: Freshman Samantha Williams says she was already a fan of the president's, and plans to cast her first vote for him in November. Williams borrows money to help pay for school, so she was interested in Mr. Obama's affordability message.
SAMANTHA WILLIAMS: Very important. I don't want to be broke.
HORSLEY: Williams' friend and tablemate, Emma Bower, has not taken on any student debt, but she is also planning to vote for Mr. Obama, especially after shaking the president's hand.
EMMA BOWER: Probably now that I've met him, he's such a nice guy. Yeah. He's so sweet. But I've never been a fan of the other guy, honestly, so I like Obama better than him.
HORSLEY: Retail politicking can still make a difference, but Mr. Obama can't take the youth vote for granted this year. Chalked on the sidewalk outside the diner was a notice for an upcoming meeting of the College Republicans. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Reno, Nevada. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.