Obama courts youth vote in North Carolina

President Barack Obama arrives to speak at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Tuesday, April 24, 2012. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Carolyn Kaster
Carolyn Kaster

UPDATED 2:55 p.m. ET

(CBS News) -- President Obama on Tuesday sought to reestablish his connections to the young people who helped him get elected four years ago, pushing for Congress to keep student loan rates low ahead of a planned rate hike in July.

In a speech to thousands of students at the University of North Carolina, Mr. Obama called on Congress to extend a 2007 law that now has student loan rates at 3.4 percent. If the subsidy were to expire as planned this summer, those rates would double to 6.8 percent.

Mr. Obama spoke in starkly personal terms about the issue, telling the students he did not just read a briefing book or get talking points on the subject.

"Michelle and I, we have been in your shoes," he said, adding that he "got poor together" with the future first lady when the two were first married and had collectively racked up thousands of dollars in student debt because "we didn't come from wealthy families."

He stressed how long many students continue to pay down their debt and outlined the negative consequences to the overall economy when young Americans are paying off loans instead of buying house or starting businesses.

The president sought to portray himself as in touch with the struggles of millions of Americans who are starting out and provided a sharp contrast to the background of his presumed opponent in November, former Massachusetts governor and wealthy businessman Mitt Romney.

"Check this out alright? I'm the president of the United States," he said, adding "we only finished paying off our student loans about eight years ago. That wasn't that long ago." Mr. Obama was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004.

Romney also backs to the proposal to keep student loan rates low.

Mr. Obama also sought to paint a sharp contrast to congressional Republicans, who have largely been silent on the issue of student loans.

He singled out North Carolina Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx for comments she had made to conservative radio host G. Gordon Liddy, though he did not mention her by name.

She thinks students who rack up student loan debt are "just sitting on their butts having opportunity dumped in your lap. I didn't make this up. I'm reading it here," Mr. Obama said of Foxx.

Foxx told Liddy earlier this month that she has "very little tolerance for people who tell me that they graduate with $200,000 of debt or even $80,000 of debt because there's no reason for that."

"I remind folks all the time that the Declaration of Independence says 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.' You don't sit on your butt and have it dumped in your lap," she added.

Mr. Obama narrowly won North Carolina in 2008 and the race there is expected to be very close this year.

And his support among voters between the ages of 18-29 has plummeted since four years ago.

According to a Harvard University study conducted in late March and early April, the president has the support of about 43 percent those voters compared to Romney's 26 percent. The margin over his Republican is just about half what it was in 2008, when Mr. Obama took 63 percent to Arizona Sen. John McCain's 30 percent of the young voters.

To help reach those young voters, Mr. Obama planned to appear on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon later Tuesday.

Additional reporting by Chloe Arensberg and Peter Maer.

  • Corbett Daly On Twitter» Deputy Politics Editor Corbett B. Daly is based in Washington. He has worked at Reuters, Thomson Financial News and CBS MarketWatch.