President Obama greets the crowd Tuesday at Iowa State University. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP)
FORT COLLINS, Colo. - As the GOP formally nominated Mitt Romney as its presidential candidate Tuesday in Tampa, President Obama spent the day on two college campuses in the battleground states of Colorado and Iowa courting young voters.
The Obama campaign sees the youth vote as key to his chances for re-election in November. In 2008, Obama won 66% of the 18- to 29-year-old vote, and most polls show he has a big lead over Romney in that age group. What remains to be seen is whether young voters will show up in the same numbers as they did in 2008.
"We've come too far to turn back now," Obama told a crowd of 13,000 on the Colorado State University quad Tuesday evening. "We've got more work to do."
Earlier in the day, he delivered remarks on the campus of Iowa State University in Ames, where he touted his efforts to double Pell Grants, end the war in Iraq and pass health care reform, all red-meat issues for younger voters.
The Romney campaign dismissed Obama's efforts to drum up the youth vote. "After nearly four years in office, the president has left young Americans facing higher unemployment, mounting debt, rising costs and fewer opportunities in the Obama economy," said Romney campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg.
Young Americans today face a staggering 17.1% unemployment rate.
Typically, presidential candidates lie low while the opposing party holds its convention. But with little more than two months to go until the election and polls showing a tight race, Obama decided to hit the trail for a two-day, three-college-town tour, scheduled to culminate with a rally Wednesday near the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville.
At Iowa State, Obama paused before his stump speech to say that the people of the Gulf Coast, who are bracing for Hurricane Isaac to make landfall, were in his thoughts.
In Colorado and Iowa, Obama and Romney are locked in close races, according to polls. And the Colorado State and Iowa State campuses - and the communities surrounding them - are crucial areas within the swing states the president is counting on to turn out voters in November.
The Obama campaign is trying to prod student volunteers in Colorado to register their peers, pitting students from Colorado State against the school's rival at the University of Colorado in a friendly competition called the Rocky Mountain Rumble to see which school can sign up more voters.
"If you're going to get cynical, wait till you get older," Obama told the students. "If we win Colorado, we will win this election." He also said in remarks on both campuses that Romney has written off American young voters as a "lost generation."
"What they hope is that by telling you these things," he said, "you'll get discouraged and you'll just stay home this time."
Obama visited the Colorado State campus during his 2008 campaign, and more than 40,000 crowded onto the campus to hear him speak just days before he became the first Democrat to win the state since Bill Clinton in 1992. Though a large crowd gathered for Tuesday's rally on the quad, it was far smaller than the 2008 crowd.
Nationally, more than 15 million young Americans have become eligible to vote since the last election, but they've come of age during a period when hundreds of thousands of college graduates throughout the country struggle to find work. On the front page of the Colorado State student newspaper Tuesday, the lead headline posed a vexing question for the president: "Where are the jobs?"
"I'm not sure Obama has to have the turnout he had last time around, but if the air comes out completely of the youth vote, it's not good for him," said John Straayer, a political scientist at Colorado State University.
Aamer Madhani, USA TODAY