Obama Aims To Rekindle Youth Starpower For Midterms

September 28, 2010 2:00 a.m.

In 2008, Barack Obama somehow proved wrong the skeptics who swore up and down that young people can’t be motivated to vote in large numbers. His campaign aggressively targeted college campuses, enticed 17-year-olds who’d be just old enough to participate and asked school-age children to convince their parents he was the best candidate.

And Obama needs them now more than ever.

Cue this week’s big education push, which Democrats say aims to respark energy and voting enthusiasm among young people.[TPM SLIDESHOW: Fist Bumps, Football And Friends: The End Of Summer With The Obamas]

The effort will be two-fold — policy initiatives he can champion as president, and big rallies starring Obama, party officials and members of his Cabinet on college campuses with top-flight musicians.

The president put it in stark terms on Monday when he hosted a conference call with college journalists, telling them, “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.

Obama will hold the first of four “Moving America Forward” rallies on the books today in Madison, Wisconsin. He’ll share the stage with Ben Harper and The National.

A Democratic official said the party is spending $50 million to try to re-engage voters under 30, who made up for nearly a third of the new voters who helped elect Obama in 2008.

There were 15 million of these new young voters out there two years ago. The administration is fanning out across the country to try and reach them. Vice President Joe Biden will speak at Penn State, DNC Chairman Tim Kaine will rally with Senate candidate Chris Coons (D) at the University of Delaware. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will speak at the University of Maryland. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis will headline a rally at California State-Los Angeles. United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk will rally with students at North Carolina Central University.

The DNC is hosting more than 200 watch parties at college campuses across the country, and on Monday was sending text messages to supporters to let them know about the upcoming rallies and the location of the nearest watch party.

Thursday night Obama will appear at the kickoff of a 3-day political youth summit in Washington. He’ll appear with hiphop star B.o.B. at Constitution Hall.

The Gen44 summit is billed this way: “Engaging our generation means empowering the President and this Gen44 Summit marks the start of something new. It marks the first time this has been done here at the DNC, so set the precedent and join us in DC!”

On that college journalists’ conference call, Obama complained about Republicans’ tax policies and asked the young men and women to stay engaged:

And so even though this may not be as exciting as a presidential election, it’s going to make a huge difference in terms of whether we’re going to be able to move our agenda forward over the next couple of years.

And I just want to remind young people, they’ve got to get reengaged in this process. And they’re going to have to vote in these midterms elections. You’ve got to take the time to find out where does your congressional candidate stand on various issues, where does your Senate candidate stand on various issues and make an educated decision and participate in this process — because democracy is never a one-and-done proposition. It’s something that requires sustained engagement and sustained involvement. And I just want to remind everybody of that.

A new poll done by Rock the Vote showed two-thirds of young voters who went to the polls in 2008 plan to participate this fall. Like adult voters, they are worried about the economy.

That’s one reason why Obama today in New Mexico will be speaking about the funding his administration has granted to expand community college programs and to help college kids get better loans. White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer told reporters Monday that Obama will tell young people that if Republicans win control of Congress and enact their agenda, 8 million college students “would have their aid reduced.”

On Monday Obama sat down with NBC’s Matt Lauer to talk about schools’ shortcomings as part of the network’s special education coverage. He said he supports year-round school year, something he talked about on the campaign trail. “[K]ids are losing a lot of what they learn during the school year during the summer,” Obama said. “That month makes a difference.”

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