AMES — President Barack Obama told 6,000 people his opponents will unleash an “avalanche” of negative ads and lie about him in an effort to discourage young people from going to the polls this November.
Speaking in front of Iowa State University’s Curtiss Agricultural Building with temperatures pushing 90 degrees at the start of a three-state college tour, Obama hit on college affordability, health care and renewable energy in a speech that lasted about 25 minutes.
“They’re counting on you to accept things the way they are instead of the way they ought to be,” Obama told the throng, many of them dressed in the school’s cardinal and gold and who responded with cheers.
It’s the 12th time Obama has traveled to Iowa since the start of his presidency and the sixth time since January 2012. The state, which went for the president by nine points in 2008, is considered a toss-up for 2012.
“Although I am getting gray, I know what it’s like,” Obama said. “Michele and I just paid off our loans eight years ago; we know what it’s like.”
The president bullet-pointed a list of his efforts to make college more affordable, including a tax credit worth up to $10,000 over four years and doubling the money available for Pell grants.
“That was the part that was really important to me,” said Anh Nguyen, 18, of Des Moines, who has both a Pell grant and a Perkins loan to help her pay for her pre-business major. She considers herself a Democrat and said she’ll support Obama in November.
Roberta Johnson, director of financial aid for ISU, said between 66 percent and 77 percent of ISU’s 31,000 students receive some form of financial assistance, including 5,930 who receive Pell grants.
“What Obama has done to student debt, he’s encouraged people to borrow all the money they can,” said Gov. Terry Branstad, who hosted a conference call with reporters Tuesday in advance of the president’s visit. “Many students have been enticed to take out more than they can afford.”
Branstad said a better plan is to allow more private-sector loans to students seeking to fund their education, which is what Republican nominee Mitt Romney has called for.
“Basically, I don’t like what I’ve seen from Romney,” said Bob Lutter, who attended the rally with his wife, Andrea.
Both are staff at ISU, he in a science lab, she in human resources. Bob said he supported Obama in 2008 and is “leaning toward” him again in 2012. Andrea said she is undecided.
“He gave a good speech, but I have to do a little more research on (the candidates) before I make up my mind,” Andrea said. “Lots of people can give a good speech.”
Some of the loudest cheers for Obama, who wore a light shirt with its sleeves rolled up and blue striped tie, came when he talked about ending the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and his abortion-rights stance.
“I voted for him in 2008, and I’m going to vote for him again,” said Michael Spory, a 23-year-old architectural sciences graduate student who arrived on the central lawn at 10:30 a.m. to get a front row spot from where he could shoot photographs of the president.
He shot about 100 frames.
“I feel like he did a good job despite the Congress he had to work with,” said Spory, who is from Johnstown, Pa. “I recognize that gridlock happens, but he’s trying to do the right thing.”
Mike Wiser reports for the Des Moines Bureau of Lee Enterprises.