Republicans Seize On Waning Campus Obamamania

CHICAGO (AP) — The young people in the ad look dissatisfied and pouty. Barack Obama’s voice and the words “winning the future,” from one of his old campaign speeches, echo in the background.

“You’re LOSING my future,” says one young man.

The ad — which has aired during sportscasts, reality TV shows and late-night comedy programs popular with younger people — was produced for the College Republican National Committee. It is an attempt to play on the fears that haunt college campuses — fears that they won’t find jobs, fears that they’ll be living with less than their parents did.

Their fears are, of course, far from exclusive to their generation. But some say the fact that it has taken hold in a voting bloc that helped usher the president into office on a wave of hope and change provides a big opening for Republicans — unless the president can find a way to get them fired up again.

They have much at stake. “People are taking out $100,000 in debt and they’re graduating next year,” says Nick Haschka, a 25-year-old MBA student at Northwestern University.

Haschka voted for Obama in 2008 and remains a strong supporter. “I think he’s doing the best he can in these circumstances,” he says.

But he knows others have been less patient. And that’s been confirmed by recent polls, which show that young voters’ support for the president is waning. That’s true even on campuses like Northwestern, one of many where Obamamania began to take hold four years ago, when young voters supported the president by a 2-1 margin.

“I don’t really think he can make a difference now,” says Charlotte Frei, a 24-year-old doctoral student at Northwestern who’s studying transportation engineering. She voted for the president in 2008 and will probably do so again, though she’s not very enthusiastic about it.

Others worry that apathy could cause a lot of young voters to sit this one out.

“It’s unfortunate — but I think the last election was an exception,” says Aubrey Blanche, a senior at Northwestern who’ll soon graduate with a degree in journalism and political science and who, like many others, has “no idea” where she’ll get a job.

Young Republicans see an opportunity.

Even at the University of Chicago, a short walk from the Obamas’ home in Hyde Park, members of the small local chapter of College Republicans are feeling empowered to engage students in conversation as the fall term begins.

“The jobs issue is a major accelerant,” says Jacob Rabinowitz, a sophomore who is the group’s vice president.

Meanwhile, in a recruiting video, Zach Howell, the outgoing chairman of the national College Republican group, says his party offers “real change” and “hope,” playing off the themes of Obama’s last campaign.

The group’s ads are edgy and catchy — and a good start, says political scientist Richard Niemi.

“Throwing back a candidate’s words at him or her is a tried-and-true method,” says Niemi, a professor at the University of Rochester in New York. “But you’ve got to have the candidate to go with it.”

That’s where it gets tricky for Republicans, since young voters have traditionally leaned heavily Democratic.

So far, in this race, Ron Paul, a Republican with libertarian leanings, is among those with a small but loyal legion of young followers. Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor, also has attempted to make a play for young supporters, calling them “Generation H.”

Jacob Engels — a 19-year-old business student at Valencia College in Florida who is a delegate in the Republican straw poll later this month — is a Huntsman supporter. Though Huntsman hasn’t made a strong showing in early polls, Engels calls him the “pragmatic choice” because he’s less conservative on issues such as the environment and gay marriage.

That would make Huntsman more palatable to his college peers, he says.

“I just don’t think you can get away with the Bachmann craziness and the Perry stuff,” Engels says of two presidential candidates — Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry — who lean more to the right on social issues.

Bachmann, a Republican member of Congress from Minnesota, and Perry, the governor of Texas, are, in fact, names that tend to stir up college Democrats — and not necessarily in a good way.

“If Perry ran, I’d definitely vote against him,” says Frei, the Northwestern Ph.D student.

Of course, that’s good for Obama, says Larry Berman, a political science professor at Georgia State University. But, he says the president also needs to find ways to inspire young people to vote FOR him, not just against his opponent, whoever that turns out to be.

He says the president might, for instance, find a new role for Vice President Joe Biden and choose a new running mate that would appeal more to the younger crowd.

The president also is likely to make more appearances on college campuses, as he did when he recently took his jobs plan to the campus of Ohio State University.

“He can’t win Ohio and other key swing states without a dramatic turnout of young voters,” Berman says.

Perhaps most important, “I think he’s got to fight,” Berman says. He suggests a re-election campaign speech like the one President Franklin D. Roosevelt made in 1936 in which he said of his detractors, “I welcome their hatred.”

That kind of passion would appeal to college students, among others, he says.

Either way, Meredith Segal, who helped found and run Students for Obama during the last presidential election, says it’s far too early to discount young voters.

No, their response to Obama won’t be the same as it was in the 2008 campaign, she says.

“Inevitably there is a difference between something that is brand new vs. a known quantity,” says Segal, who’s 25 and now director of student and family services at a new urban charter school outside Boston. “It’s always virtually impossible to recapture the newness and energy of a candidate who is being discovered for the first time.”

But she adds: “This generation still has the potential to have a huge impact — not just in the election but on their campuses, in their towns, their cities and their country.”

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

  • Jason

    His policies have failed. The american people have rejected them. His predecessor was bad, Obama is horrible. Can you in your job blame others for mistakes continually? No leadership in this guy. We need someone else.

    • Me

      How have his policies failed when most of his policies have been blocked the GnOP?

      Health insurance reform passed.
      More illegals deported in this first two years than W. deported in eight.
      Stopped the massive bleeding of job losses in the hundreds of thousands each mo.
      Got Osama.

      • Fred

        Stopped by the GOP? When he had control of the house, senate and white house for 2 years?
        What color is the sky in your world?
        Unemployment stays at 9% and above after stimulus 1?
        Failure to close Gitmo?
        Attack at Ft. Hood?
        Failure of most of his staff to pay taxes?
        Failure of the surge in Afghanistan=time to leave!! Pakistan aiding the enemy and no consequenses?
        Dumbo didn’t get Obama. The seals did. He had to say yes or risk looking like Clinton.
        Even Carter is endorsing Romney now!!

  • Mama Bear

    Young Republicans? So young to lose their souls.

    • Phid

      Throwing smear at people you disagree with does not help advance your argument whatsoever.

  • Angus

    Remember what Wall Street has been going through? You want them investing your Social Security dollars?

    The only ones it will help are the rich, generally white, stock brokers of New Youk city. Oh, that’s right. The Republicans are made up of rich, generally white, people. Is thee a connection?

    • keep the welfare train coming

      Oh Angus, you are one odd duck. In your twisted little mind its always those white republicans causing all the trouble.

  • Robert

    Excllent points made but Obama needs to grow a backbone. He is not leading the Democrat party. I supported Obama in 2008, will I again, not sure. But then I look at the alternatives. Republician Party == Corporate Interests.

    • Phid

      Robert, if you equate Republicans with “Corporate Interests” and do not equate Obama and the Dems with that same thing, then you have much to learn. Look at how GE has fared under Obama. Look at how GM has fared. Look at the recent Solyndra news.

      Obama from 2008-2012 has been like a slow-motion train wreck. Voting for more of that is downright stupid.

  • Barney Frank

    Corporate interests? Solyndra and big unions!! HELLO!!!

  • Jake

    Jacob Engals is an IDIOT. Totally unable to figure out the differences between ‘intelligenge’ and WISDOM.. BITE ME??? Are you kidding?? He couldn’t regulate a lemonade stand these days, let alone anything else. Is his kid back from Afgahanistan yet, safe and sound?? Gee, we wouldn’t want to lose HIM.

  • it ain't over yet

    I think Obama is the victim of impossibly high expectations on the part of those who voted for him. His vague promise of “change” meant different things to different people, especially those on the left. And then in the middle of the presidential campaign the economy imploded and he took office during a crisis. Much of his political capital was spent addressing the collapse of the financial sector, and most of the remainder was used up pushing a highly controversial health care reform. Faced with a loss of the House to the GOP and a nearly 50-50 split in the Senate, he was also forced to keep his agenda in the center. This was a great disappointment to those on the left. I believe he still has a very good shot at being elected as his position in the center has forced the Republicans to appeal to the far right on issues to campaign against him. The real challenge for Republicans is to choose a candidate that is attractive to a wider voter base than the so called “Tea Party,” and has the ability to get his/her message past a largely liberal mass media. The Tea Party is touted as a solid and radical bloc by the media, when the reality is it is a convoluted grass roots movement with little cohesion. The key to the election is to win the votes of the moderates, left and right. It’s gonna be another very interesting contest.

    • Rick

      You’re right…he never should have been elected the first time. If the media vetted this unaccomplished, inexperienced individual running for president of the United States he would have never entered the Whitehouse and our nation would have been much better off! We certainly can’t afford four more years of this nut job…GOD Forbid!

      • Ron Paul 2012

        Ron won the California straw poll!! Took half the vote and was way ahead of Perry and Mitt. A big win for the fans.

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