President Obama takes the stage at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais,…)
AMES, Iowa — President Obama campaigned under a scorching sun Tuesday to rally young voters on a college campus here, but kept an eye on the hurricane swirling toward the Gulf Coast, as did Republicans in Tampa, Fla., who were celebrating the nomination of Mitt Romney.
The storm headed toward Louisiana was threatening New Orleans on the eve of the seven-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, keeping the presidential campaigns on the alert for any political fallout.
Before leaving on a two-day campus tour to the swing states of Iowa, Colorado and Virginia, the president made an unscheduled statement at the White House, giving a brief update on his administration's preparations and a warning to residents in the path not "to tempt fate" or "dismiss official warnings."
He kicked off his remarks at Iowa State University with a nod to the looming threat. "Before I begin, I think it's important to say that our thoughts are with our fellow Americans down on the gulf," Obama said.
"America will be there to help folks recover no matter what this storm brings," he added. "Because when disaster strikes we're not Democrats or Republicans first; we are Americans first."
Obama campaigned as Romney arrived at the Republican National Convention, bucking a tradition of lying low during an opponent's party gathering. Campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki said recent candidates also had campaigned during conventions and emphasized that the campaign feels it has no time to waste.
"There are less than 70 days left in the election, until the election, so we know we can't cede a day or a time with voters or a time in an important state," she told reporters.
Obama is seeking to reignite the enthusiasm that won him an overwhelming advantage with young voters four years ago. The president bested Sen. John McCain with voters under 30 by a 2-1 margin. But despite the attention and energy aimed at young voters, turnout only ticked up by 1 percentage point — to 18% of the vote — evidence of how difficult it is to boost voting among young voters.
That's Obama's challenge as he heads to three college campuses just as students are settling into a new school year. Obama addressed a crowd of about 6,000 on a campus green in front of Curtiss Hall, a large neoclassical building. Students wearing the Cyclones cardinal and gold formed the backdrop.
"It's going to depend on you to close that gap between what America is and what we know it can be," he said. ".... I'm asking you to believe in what you can accomplish. We've come too far to turn back now."
Obama's case to young voters leans heavily on his efforts to make college affordable, including his support for Pell grants, overhaul of the federal student aid program and push to keep interest rates low for some student loans.
In a fuller pitch Tuesday he emphasized foreign policy as well.
"I said we'd end the Iraq war. We did. I said we'd get Bin Laden. We did," Obama said to cheers.
The president also highlighted his healthcare law and the provision that allows young people to stay on their parents' insurance until age 26. He embraced the label "Obamacare," which Republicans use derisively. "I do care," he said, and then proposed a new name for his rival's health plan: "Maybe we should call his plan 'Romney Doesn't Care.'"
At an evening rally at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Obama took a swipe at the Republican convention.
"The show in Tampa will, I'm sure, be very entertaining, and I'm sure they'll have wonderful things to say about me," he said. "It will be well-produced. They've hired all kinds of TV producers. The only problem is they haven't offered a path forward."
On Wednesday, Obama will hold another rally at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.