Dems make push for college voters in swing states
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — President Barack Obama's campaign can't count on a wave of college students to simply show up at the polls on Election Day like they did four years ago. So it's making sure young people in swing states are voting now, ferrying them on charter buses and golf carts to early voting sites and throwing pizza parties near campus polling places.
At college rallies around battleground Ohio, Obama has taken to spelling out the exact addresses of early voting locations. "Everybody knows where that is," he told students at Ohio University a few weeks ago.
Buses were lined up steps from where he spoke at Ohio State University in early October. "Grab your friends, grab everybody in your dorm," Obama said. "There are buses around the corner that can get you there and back right now. So don't wait."
The question is will it be enough to make up for what appears to be slipping enthusiasm among young people who backed the president by a 2-to-1 margin in 2008 and helped him win the White House.
Pollsters expect a smaller turnout among those in the 18- to 29-year-old age group from four years ago when they voted in larger numbers than in recent years. One reason for the drop is that the election of the nation's first black president in 2008 was a historic event. And there seems to be disillusionment with politics compared with four years ago when young voters were filled with optimism.
Young people are still solidly behind Obama, but a drop in numbers could make a big difference in states where the race is tight.
That's why college campuses have become a popular setting for candidate visits as both sides vie to sway young voters to their side.
Republicans are trying to put a dent into the Democrats' advantage on campuses with students concerned about their job prospects. GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan has been making frequent stops at colleges, portraying himself as a fresh face more in tune with young people and tailgating at football games in Ohio.
Volunteers at Obama events have registered thousands of young people to vote while they waited to see the president. Chris Hoffman, chairman of the college Democrats at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said more than 1,000 people were registered at an Obama rally in early October, helping them surpass a goal of 8,000 this fall.
Freshmen at the College of William & Mary in Virginia received voter registration forms in packets when they showed up on campus, and students are being encouraged to vote early, said James Lewis, spokesman for the Virginia Young Democrats. "If we turn out the college campuses, we win," he said.
But young voters, he said, need a little extra push to vote.
"When you're in college, you have a million different things you can be doing," Lewis said. "Getting to the polls and blocking in time to do that is hard."
Golf carts supplied by the Obama campaign have carried students at Bowling Green State University in Ohio between the student union and an early voting place about six blocks off campus. Vans and shuttle buses are making regular trips to the polls on campuses in Toledo, Youngstown and Columbus.
Republicans last week filed an elections complaint that centered on an Obama student organization at Ohio State whose organizers handed out pizza and bumper stickers before offering free transportation to the nearby early voting center. The Ohio Republican Party said that violated a law that prohibits offering something of value for a person's vote. The complaint was dismissed Tuesday.
Following a rally with Vice President Joe Biden in Toledo a week ago, Obama campaign volunteers urged students and supporters to get on a luxury coach with about 50 seats for a 10-mile trip to an early voting site.
There were only seven takers. Most people approached by Obama volunteers said they had to get to class or work.
Landyn Jones, 20, of Toledo, had planned to vote closer to Election Day, but he decided not to risk missing his chance.
"The calendar picks up and it keeps getting busier," he said, smiling after voting for Obama. "It's kind of cool. Definitely cool," he said.
Annetta Whitaker, a 43-year-old who went back to school to get her social work degree, got on the bus and sat among the group of younger students. "It's easier than trying to find a ride," said Whitaker, who doesn't own a car.
Unlike the others, Whitaker still hadn't decided whether to vote Obama as the bus pulled into the polling place's parking lot. Four years ago, she voted for the first time in her life, enthusiastically backing Obama.
"It's got to get better than this because it's been terrible," said Whitaker, who revealed on the ride back that she settled on voting for Obama again.
Some college students who go to school in Ohio but come from somewhere else have decided to vote here instead.
"It just feels like my vote is going to have a little bit more weight," said Cory Pratt, an Ohio University student who voted for Obama four years ago in his home state of Tennessee.
Associated Press writers Kantele Franko in Athens, Ohio, and Dan Sewell in Cincinnati contributed to this report.