President Obama wipes sweat from his face during a campaign stop in Ames,… (Nati Harnik / Associated…)
AMES, Iowa -- Campaigning under the scorching Iowa sun, President Obama had one eye on the rains pounding the Gulf Coast on Tuesday as he rallied young voters on the first stop of a two-day campus tour.
Hurricane Isaac heading toward Louisiana was threatening a still recovering New Orleans on the seven-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the shadow of that devastating storm followed the Obama campaign to Iowa.
Before leaving on the trip, the president made an unscheduled statement, a brief update on his administration’s preparations and a warning to residents in the path to not to tempt fate” by ignoring evacuation 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. “Americans will be there to help folks recovering. When this disaster strikes, we’re not Democrats or Republicans first; we are American first.”
Bucking a tradition of lying low during an opponent's party gathering, Obama campaigned as his GOP rival, Mitt Romney, arrived in Tampa, Fla., for the Republican National Convention. Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki noted recent candidates also had campaigned during the convention. The president's camp feels it has no time to waste.
"There are less than 70 days left ... 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 recapture the enthusiasm that gave him an overwhelming advantage with young voters four years ago. The president bested Sen. John McCain with voters under 30 by a two-to-one margin. But despite the flood of attention and energy in that campaign, young voter turnout only ticked up by 1 percentage point -- to 18% of the vote -- evidence of how difficult it is to boost turnout 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 and ready to be registered. Obama addressed a crowd of about 6,000 on a campus green in front of Curtiss Hall, a large neoclassical building. Students wearing Cyclone 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 America can be,” he said, asking students to pitch in the votes and the work that propelled his 2008 campaign. “I’m asking you to believe, 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 has leaned heavily on his support for Pell Grants, overhaul of the federal student aid program and efforts to keep interest rates low for some student loans. In a fuller pitch on Tuesday, he emphasized foreign policy, as well.
“I said we’d end the Iraq war, we did. I said we get [Osama] bin Laden, we did,” Obama said to cheers.
The president also highlighted his healthcare law and its provision allowing young people to remain covered under their parents' insurance. He again embraced the label “Obamacare” -- “I do care,” he said -- and proposed a new name for his rival's health plan.
“Maybe we should call his plan 'Romney doesn’t care,' ” Obama said.
Obama had a stop planned for Colorado State University later Tuesday and another rally at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville on Wednesday.
For the record, 12:53 p.m. Aug. 28: An earlier version of this post referred to President Obama running for president previously in 2004. His first campaign was in 2008.