Power Play

Obama Brings Claims of GOP War on the Poor to Campus Campaign Swing; Senate Dems Play Dangerous Game on Immigration

Chris Stirewalt, Ron Bonjean and Garland Nixon discuss President Obama's pitch to young voters.


Obama Takes Different Tone With College Students than 2008

“76 percent”

-- Portion of North Carolina voters ages 25 to 29 that voted for Barack Obama in 2008  

In 2008, President Obama won voters under the age of 30 by a staggering 34 points and boosted turnout for the 18-to-29 set compared to the two previous elections.

Obama did more than twice as well with young voters and got more young voters to the polls than other recent Democratic candidates.

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Obama can credit his victory to having narrowly won with the 66 percent of voters between ages 30 and 64, but his awesome performance with young voters not only offset the opposition of roughly similar number of voters over the age of 65, but also provided Obama’s cushion in the popular and electoral votes.

Consider North Carolina where Obama will today kick off a three-state, two-day campaign tour across swing-state university campuses. Obama won by three-tenths of a percent in the final tally, but pulled 74 percent of the 18 percent of voters under the age of 30.

Obama still would have won the presidency without North Carolina’s 15 electoral votes and still would have won the popular vote without beating John McCain two-to-one with voters under 30, but young voters were also key to developing Obama’s “cool” brand.

Who knows how many Baby Boomers were nudged into the Obama column by seeing the shining optimism and unalloyed enthusiasm of their college-student children? In youth-obsessed America, it’s usually preferable to be standing with the youngsters and not the geezers.

The same kind of grassroots support Obama is now paying dearly to recreate stemmed naturally from young voters who believed that they were part of a movement that would forever change American politics.

Except that it didn’t. The political discourse is worse, not better than when Obama took office. Race relations are worse, not better than when Obama took office. Obama blames Republicans for becoming more wicked and less worthy of efforts at compromise, but that itself sounds like something a typical politician would say.

These voters are also a big part of why Obama has been so anxious about his reversals on Bush administration war policies. Middle-aged voters may be relieved that Congress blocked Obama from closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay or that Obama has expanded the Bush administration’s covert war efforts via drones, but those things didn’t do much to keep youthful hopes alive.

Obama is more than two years into a limited Afghan surge that has gone very poorly and yielded many American casualties. That’s probably not where a lot of young voters would have imagined Obama going when they cast their ballots for him in 2008.

The biggest problem for the president with young voters, though, has to be the fact that they have suffered the most in the puny economy since Obama took office.

An Associated Press study out this week found a 53.6 percent rate of unemployment and underemployment among adults under age 25 with college degrees. More American adults are living with parents than at any time since 1950 and student loan debt recently topped $1 trillion.

The 19-year-old senior who voted for Obama on a platform of hope and change who is now working as a barista, living with mom and unable to repay college loans at any rate may have trouble conjuring the same dewy idealism that Obama once tapped.

Obama will also campaign this week in Colorado and Iowa, states that like North Carolina, have large numbers of college students and young adults.

(He is able to have taxpayers cover the cost of the campaign swing because his topic, extending a $6 billion-per-year program that subsidizes student loans for lower-income college students. The stimulus provision is set to expire on July 1, and since Obama is talking about pending legislation, he can say he is on official business, not campaigning, and not have to pay for the travel from his re-election fund.)

As he rolls out, he finds his Gallup approval rating among voters under 30 running 10 points behind his 2008 election performance. Much worse, though, is the fact that voter enthusiasm for this group has cratered. In February, Gallup found voter enthusiasm for the under 30 set down 28 points to 48 percent as compared to the same point in 2008.

Obama will still win the youth vote, but it looks like he is unlikely to do so by the massive margins of 2008. But the more serious concern is that youth turnout may shrink and that these young voters won’t be foot soldiers knocking on doors and leaning on their parents and grandparents to vote for that cool, transformative guy.

With Obama unlikely to fare so well with middle-aged voters this time, the youth vote has taken on new importance. Even if Obama can’t recreate the magic of 2008, he needs to do at least as well with the 18-to-29 year olds as John Kerry and Al Gore.

That’s why he’s not out talking about transforming Washington and bringing hope to the nation this week. He’s out with a narrow message tailored to lower-income students which says that Mitt Romney and the Republicans are trying to take away their subsidized tuitions and that they need to vote for Obama so that he protect that money.

Schumer and Senate Dems Defy Popular Opinion on Arizona Immigration Law in Pursuit of Wedge Issue for November

“If the court upholds the Arizona law, Congress can make it clear that what Arizona is doing goes beyond what the federal government and what Congress ever intended.”

-- Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., in an interview with the Washington Post explaining that Senate Democrats would put forward a bill targeting Arizona’s illegal immigration crackdown.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments on Wednesday over Arizona’s 2010 anti-illegal immigration law that has been mostly blocked by federal courts at the request of the Obama administration.

The most controversial provisions, particularly the one that requires police officers to determine the immigration status of those individuals detained for another crime, have never gone into effect.

It will be months before the high court renders a decision, but in advance of the arguments, Senate Democrats are seeking to increase the pressure on Republicans over the legislations. They believe the bill provides a good wedge issue that can harm Republican chances with already skeptical Hispanic voters, especially if the blue team can emphasize the complaints of some civil libertarians that the law is tantamount to racial profiling.

Today, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y, the lead man on messaging for the Senate Democrats, will hold a hearing in which one of the original sponsors of the bill, former state Sen. Russell Pearce, has been called to testify. Pearce was removed from office in a recall election last fall and replaced by a more moderate Republican, who though generally supportive of the illegal immigration crackdown, distanced himself from Pearce’s sharp language and hard-line stances.

Pearce, a former deputy to Maricopa County’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio, had plenty of controversy in his less than three years in the state senate and even more during his eight years as a state representative. He emailed, he says unknowingly, text from a white supremacist group to his supporters and endorsed, again, he says, unknowingly, a neo-Nazi for a slot on the Mesa city council.

Schumer and the Senate Democrats are hoping to make Pearce the face of the law and revive the flash of outrage that followed its initial passage when pro-amnesty groups and Hispanic activists were calling for boycotts of Arizona and the law was getting wall-to-wall press coverage.

The goal is to force Republican senators and Senate candidates to stake out a position against the Senate measure and perhaps get presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney to squirm a bit. President Obama’s re-election hopes depend on repeating his huge advantage with Hispanic voters (67 percent in 2008 exit polls), and Senate Democrats, facing the danger of losing control of the upper chamber, are counting on similar showings with Hispanic voters in state races.

This looks good for a few swing states with contested Senate elections. If the Supreme Court upholds the Arizona law in whole or in part, Republican candidates in toss-up races in Florida and New Mexico, swing states with large Hispanic populations, might have to take difficult stances on the law.

But on the whole, the issue looks like a loser for Democrats. While public opinion on the Arizona law and ones like it that have since sprung up around the country was somewhat divided at the outset, public opinion is now solidly behind the idea of state-level crackdowns.

The latest FOX News poll found 65 percent support for the Arizona law among registered voters, identical to a Quinnipiac University poll for earlier this month. The Quinnipiac poll found 50 percent in support of Arizona’s law two months after its passage in April 2010 with 32 percent opposed. Two years later, the opposition was essentially unchanged but support had grown by 15 percent.

If undecided voters swung so sharply in favor of the law despite years overwhelmingly negative coverage, one suspects that Schumer’s messaging effort this week won’t do much to change the mainstream thinking that Arizona did the right thing.

It’s hard to see how for most of the seats Democrats are defending in competitive races – Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Missouri, Michigan and Ohio – it would be helpful to have Democratic candidates going on the record against a popular law. Most dangerous is probably Virginia, where Democrat Tim Kaine might please the growing Hispanic population with support of the Senate effort but Republican George Allen would surely gain more from the support of suburbanites anxious about the large number of illegal immigrants in their communities.

One reason the Arizona law and its imitators are so popular may be that voters have seen sharp declines in illegal immigration in recent years and an increase in the number of border jumpers who, in the word of Romney, “self-deport.”

A new Pew study says that between 2005 and 2010 about 1.4 million Mexican immigrants and their children moved from the United States to Mexico, twice as many as in the five years before. While much of that out-migration can be attributed to the continually anemic U.S. economy and job market, some must be attributed to increasing fears of deportation or arrest.

Ever since the defeat of the 2007 immigration proposal from then-President George W. Bush, states and localities have been ramping up pressure on illegal immigrants and public opinion has hardened against amnesty proposals. Lax laws and booming construction and service sectors drew illegal immigrants. A combination of more stringent laws and a shriveled economy seem to be repelling them.

Schumer’s best hope is that the Supreme Court upholds the lower court decisions barring the law. Anger over the decision would be focused on the court and the president, and Democrats in Florida and New Mexico would still get a boost among Hispanics as they stand solidly with the administration. Schumer would have gotten to dangle Pearce before sympathetic media outlets and engaged in racism by association for Republican supporters of the law without forcing vulnerable incumbents to cast damaging votes.

The truth for Schumer, just as for President Obama, is that revving up pro-amnesty Hispanic groups is best done for a narrow audience. Romney’s “self-deport” strategy and support for state-level solutions to the problem are political winners with the electorate at large.

And Now, A Word From Charles

“The numbers today talk about the difficulty of the entitlement programs in terms of years.  But the more accurate way I think that you look at it is how much is spent every year and how much is coming in?  

Medicare shells out $560 billion every year.  It covers less than half of that with premiums and with taxation. So more than half of that it comes from the Treasury, which has no money of its own.  That money comes from China. Every year, almost $300 billion every year it adds to the deficit. That is a quarter of the entire deficit on Medicare.”

-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily Fox News Halftime Report political news note and co-hosts the hit podcast, Perino & Stirewalt: I'll Tell You What. He also is the host of Power Play, a feature video series on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on network programs, including America’s Newsroom, Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. He also provides expert political analysis for FNC’s coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.