CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — President Barack Obama arrived here today on the final leg of his two-day college tour, pitching his message directly to the teenage and twentysomething constituency that fueled his campaign four years ago.
“Your generation is going to have push the generations in front of you to make sure they are making the right decisions,” Obama said. “Your generation will choose…the path we take as a country and it will effect your life in very personal and profound ways.”
That message hasn’t been an easy sell this summer. The campaign is battling widespread apathy, high unemployment and low job prospects for graduates, a marked contrast to the enthusiastic support and optimism Obama experienced in 2008.
In fact, the president wasn’t even allowed to hold the event at the University of Virginia. The school declined the campaign’s request to hold an event on its Charlottesville campus, citing costs, class cancellations, and logistical issues.
There were other signs of less than friendly terrain. A graffiti art message greeting ticket holders on an art installation outside the event read :“NO MORE DRONE KILLINGS,” a response to the president’s controversial targeted assassination program that has grown exponentially over the past four years. A few blocks away from the event, the anti-Obama film AMERICA 2016, was headlining at the local theater.
At another point, protesters apparently chanting about the debt interrupted the president’s speech. The crowd shouted down the protesters, and Obama laughed it off.
“I couldn’t hear what those young people were saying, it’s good they are getting involved,“ he said, adding, “Don’t just chant, you got to vote.”
The difference in atmosphere was a fact even the president seemed to acknowledge.
“Change isn’t possible you can’t make a difference, you were naïve last time when you had all that hope and change stuff,” Obama said, characterizing the Republican strategy as one to promote voter apathy. “What they do hope is that you get so discouraged you just stay home.”
Before the event, one Obama campaign official said it would likely be one of the president’s largest rallies of the campaign, estimating some 12,000 would show up.
The campaign later said that only 6500 showed up, then revised the final count to 7500, citing Fire Chief Charles Werner in a statement distributed by the campaign.
That being said, the president was greeted with roaring approval from his core fanatical supporters among the crowd.
“Oh My God! Obama I love you," screamed one woman in the back of the audience, while others seemed on the verge of fainting, star struck and heat stroked.
The trip was counter programming to the Republican Convention in Tampa., which, along with the Hurricane Isaac, has sucked up all the media oxygen.
"Pay a little attention to what’s happening in Tampa this week,” he said, getting boos from the crowd. “Don’t boo, vote!”
The Obama campaign touted what it claimed were the benefits that the administration has brought to Virginia, including a new college tax credit that effected 231,000 students, and over 2,000 Pell Grants to the University of Virginia alone, according to a campaign press release.
On Saturday, the campaign will begin its pre-convention roll out, with a cross country trip planned that will end with his arrival in Charlotte next week to accept his party’s nomination.