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This week, the White House is trying to re-energize young voters who played a big role in President Obamas election two years ago. Polls show they still support him and the Democrats, just not by the record margins they did in 2008. The president held a huge rally at the University of Wisconsin this week. And Vice President Joe Biden went to Penn State.
NPRs Don Gonyea was there in central Pennsylvania and he talked with students about the president and the midterm elections.
Don GONYEA: Young people - voters under age 30 - were a major force for the Obama '08 campaign. They were excited. They were involved. They used social media, wore T-shirts, went to countless rallies. Tuesday at Penn State, Vice President Biden urged a ballroom packed with mostly students not to let down this year.
Vice President JOE BIDEN: I'm asking you all to keep the enthusiasm. It's harder now. It's harder now. Keep the phone calls going like you did for us last time. Knock on doors for us like you did last time. But most importantly, I need you to commit to vote this fall.
GONYEA: Outside, volunteers waved clipboards, looking for students who havent yet registered.
Unidentified Woman: Are you registered to vote on campus?
GONYEA: But beyond getting a signature on a form, the trick is to motivate young voters who traditionally have lower turnout rates than the population as a whole.
Penn State freshman Connor Mariani says hes still a big supporter of the president, but he adds that he does find himself having to defend Mr. Obama.
Mr. CONNOR MARIANI (Student): Yesterday we met a political science major, and were like, oh, are you going to the Biden thing? And she's like; Im not going to listen to that socialist like person. Like, theyre not socialist. They're not - I mean, theyre definitely more left. But theyre not trying to harm anyone. Theyre not trying to take complete control. Theyre just trying to help, you know?
GONYEA: Mariani says he is voting for sure this year. But more typical is Chardae Harris, a sophomore, who says she's not following the election closely.
Ms. CHARDAE HARRIS (Student): No, not really. School is taking up all my time.
GONYEA: Two years ago, Harris was an active Obama campaign volunteer.
Ms. HARRIS: I havent even really been watching TV. And to a certain extent, especially for like a college student, thats really where you get most of your information with school and stuff like that. So if I dont have time to watch TV, I dont really have time to catch up on...
GONYEA: With so many potentially close races, Democrats are concerned that such apathy will take a toll come November.
At the Pew Research Center, Scott Keeter says voters younger than 30 are still the single best age group for President Obama. But instead of the 34 percent margin they gave the president over John McCain in '08, latest polling has young voters giving Democrats just a four-point edge over Republicans in this year's U.S. House races. Keeter says economic worries are a big part of it.
Mr. SCOTT KEETER (Pew Research Center): The economy, in particular, arguably may be hurting young people more than it is other age groups - last hired, first fired - or they - maybe they never got hired in the first place. They may have to move back in with their parents. And so its not surprising that some of their confidence in the Democratic Party and in Obama himself would be shaken.
GONYEA: Even though polls show that young voters still have a positive view of government overall, and even though they are far more liberal on social issues than the GOP, Republicans see an opportunity.
(Soundbite of gavel banging)
Unidentified Man: All right everybody we're going to start with the Pledge of Allegiance...
GONYEA: About 50 members of the Penn State College Republicans gathered a few hours after Vice President Biden held his rally at a campus building known as the Hub. There was no apathy here. Sophomore Maggie Quinn...
Ms. MAGGIE QUINN (Student): Just the fact that college students were outside the Hub at 8:00 a.m., not only at 8:00 a.m. but in the pouring rain at 8:00 a.m., really shows how passionate we are about taking back our seats in November. So really, applause to you guys...
(Soundbite of applause)
GONYEA: Sophomore Ethan Wolfinger is here. He smiles as he thinks about what a difference two years makes.
Mr. ETHAN WOLFINGER (Student): I could probably name about five McCain supporters, and as far as the people that are political, there is probably at least 100 people that liked Obama. So it's definitely a big shift.
GONYEA: But Maggie Quinn also tells the group that the election is still more than a month away, that they have to keep at it.
In the meantime, though, they'll enjoy the fact that this election it's somebody else's turn to play the underdog.
Don Gonyea, NPR News, State College, Pennsylvania.
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