MANCHESTER, N.H. — Standing in front of an ivy-covered brick building on the campus of St. Anselm College, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan took their message of conservative entitlement reform to a crowd consisting largely of younger voters — with mixed results.
“In my view, it’s not just bad economics; it is immoral for us to pass these burdens on to coming generations," Romney declared, in a town hall answer that was quickly excerpted and blasted out by the campaign press-shop with an all-caps headline.
The conventional Republican wisdom has always been that tackling Medicare should appeal to younger voters, who see money siphoned out of their paychecks every month with no guarantee that the program will be around by the time they're eligible to participate in it. In theory, conservatives are promising a brighter fiscal future at the expense of reining in a program that only benefits the elderly.
But as Romney discovered Monday, that may be a tougher sell than imagined. For one thing, the Republican ticket has gone to great lengths to assure all voters over 55 that they won't see any change to Medicare — meaning the revamped (and pared down) program will be experienced largely young baby-boomers and their kids.
But the more immediate challenge in making the Medicare message work on younger voters is getting them to care about national debt more than their own student debt.
In the middle of the Q&A section of the event, Romney took a question from an enthusiastic St. Anselm junior who wanted to know how the Republican planned to address ever-rising student debt.
Romney's response was to first change the subject back to the deficit — "There's been some loans that have been taken out for you that you don't know about" — and then to decline offering "free stuff" to students struggling with debt.
Paul Ryan then accused President Obama of using a "budget gimmick" to falsely promise college students more Pell Grants.
Romney has been consistent throughout his campaign in declining to promise new federal assistance for college students facing ever-rising tuitions, pledging instead to create a better economic environment and more jobs. He has also encouraged students to seek out cheaper colleges:
This persistence is likely an acknowledgement that Romney won't win the election on the backs of young voters, like Obama did in 2008. But without an answer on student loans, Republicans may have a tough time getting young voters to pay attention to Medicare.