MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is spending his entire week on college campuses in Iowa. He's in a tight race there with Hillary Clinton and John Edwards. Obama is enormously popular on college campuses, and his campaign is banking on a solid turnout from younger voters. But Obama's push has drawn some criticism because his campaign is directly encouraging college students who live out of state to caucus.
NPR's David Greene reports.
DAVID GREENE: It was after nine o'clock last night. The weather was messy and a few thousand students at the University of Iowa were streaming into an athletic center to see Barack Obama.
Mr. ELLIOT SHEER(ph) (Student, University of Iowa): He seems younger. He acts younger. And he represents more of a change candidate.
GREENE: Elliot Sheer is 22. A first year medical student. He is seriously considering supporting Obama for president. He says he's looking for an alternative to Hillary Clinton.
Mr. SHEER: I think of Hillary Clinton, when I was young, and a lot of bad things going on on TV.
GREENE: What bad things?
Mr. SHEER: With the scandal with Monica Lewinsky and all that. I had to have some rough conversations with my parents about what was actually going on in the Oval Office.
GREENE: How old are you during that whole thing?
Mr. SHEER: I was in middle school. That was probably the first time I had to talk about that sort of things.
GREENE: Sheer lives in Ohio. He said he wasn't aware that by law, he can caucus in Iowa since he goes to school here.
Mr. SHEER: I would be really interested in caucusing, actually, if I could. I don't know, I could even.
Ms. LINDSAY SCOLA (Barack Obama Campaign Field Organizer): I'm Lindsay Scola. I'm one of the organizers here in Iowa City.
GREENE: Scola came up on stage before Obama arrived. She had a message for any out of state students who were heading home over break and potentially missing the January 3rd caucuses.
Ms. SCOLA: For those of you who are going to be out Iowa for the holidays and needs to come back to Iowa City and live in a residence hall, the Iowa House Hotel is running a special.
GREENE: Such courting of out of state students has drawn criticism. Senator Obama told the crowd he doesn't understand why.
Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): I thought that it is our civic duty to participate, and we want everybody to be involved.
(Soundbite of cheering)
Sen. OBAMA: So don't let people tell you that Iowa students can't caucus in Iowa. Don't let them tell you that you can't participate and make a meaningful difference in the life of this country. You will choose the next president of the United States of America.
GREENE: One of Obama's critics on this issue is David Yepsen, the Des Moines Register's political columnist. He says he was concerned about a flyer distributed by Obama's campaign. It laid out issues important to Obama and included a sentence telling students: If you're not from Iowa, you can caucus. Yepsen says the message was too overt.
Mr. DAVID YEPSEN (Political Columnist, The Des Moines Register): We have to respect the integrity of this process here in this state. This is the Iowa caucus. This isn't the Illinois caucus. And to try to pour thousands of non-Iowa college students into the electorate here changes the nature of the event.
GREENE: Yepsen says all the campaigns encouraged out of state students to caucus in their college towns if they want to. No campaign is as aggressive as Obama's is. Then again, no other candidate is generating this much excitement among younger voters.
At the University of Iowa last night, John Mulrooney, the executive secretary of the university Democrats, was out to see Obama. He's from Chicago, but says he's thinking of caucusing for Democrat Joe Biden at this point. Mulrooney says the ruckus over out of state voters caucusing strikes him as hype.
Mr. JOHN MULROONEY (Executive Secretary, University of Iowa Democrats): As a student, I think it's important that students are actively involved in an important political decision because it's our future that's in their hands.
GREENE: One thing appears certain, with less than a month before the caucuses, Obama's effort to woo college students across Iowa will only intensify.
Sen. OBAMA: I need you to stand up, to stand up and be counted.
(Soundbite of applause)
GREENE: David Greene, NPR News, Iowa City.
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