Obama to Kick Off Campaign with Rallies in Ohio, Va.

(AP) Obama to kick off campaign rallies in Ohio, Va.
By JULIE PACE
Associated Press
WASHINGTON
President Barack Obama will headline his first re-election rallies next week, marking an important turning point in the race for the White House.

An Obama campaign official says the president will headline back-to-back rallies May 5 in Ohio and Virginia. Obama carried both states in the 2008 election and will need them again in November if he wants to hold the White House.

The official says first lady Michelle Obama will join the president at the rallies, which will be held on the campuses of Ohio State University in Columbus and Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.

While Obama has been headlining re-election fundraisers for several months, the events in Ohio and Virginia are his first non-fundraising campaign events.

The official requested anonymity to speak ahead of the campaign's formal announcement.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

In the state that began his march to the White House, President Barack Obama looked every bit the campaigner Wednesday as he told college students that "Iowa always feels like home to me."

With a focus on student loans, he rallied young people during his third visit to a university campus in two days and said keeping college affordable "is at the heart of who we are."

Obama's election-season speech at the University of Iowa mirrored his addresses Tuesday in North Carolina and Colorado, and was part of the campaign appeal to young voters, an important constituency that the Democratic incumbent and Republican rival Mitt Romney are trying to win over.

The issue of student debt goes right to the heart of economic anxiety affecting many families and a new generation of voters as the campaign season takes hold.

Obama, who was born in Hawaii and hails from Illinois, made his comment about the at-home feeling of Iowa to hundreds of people crammed into an overflow room before his speech. It was a reminder of the political overtones of his stop in this competitive state, where his early 2008 caucus victory catapulted a campaign that led to a decisive victory over Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in the general election.

Obama told college crowds that Congress needed to act on a bill to freeze the interest rate on student loans. In Washington, lawmakers had agreed on that goal and were debating how to pay for it. A measure from Senate Democrats would prevent today's 3.4 percent interest rates on subsidized Stafford loans for low- and middle-income students from doubling automatically on July 1.

Obama said the Senate bill was "good news," but he questioned whether House Republicans would go along with a yearlong freeze that would help 7.4 million people. He also addressed criticism from House Speaker John Boehner's office that the White House was only raising the student loan debate to distract from the economy.

"This is the economy," Obama said. "This is about your job security, about your future. If you do well, the economy does well."

Republicans had balked at the way Democrats would cover the nearly $6 billion price tag on the student loan freeze.

Complicating the situation for GOP congressional lawmakers is that Mitt Romney, the party's presidential candidate, has sided with Obama and asked Congress to temporarily extend the lower rates.

Obama's appearance Wednesday, his final stop on the two-day college tour, put him in a state whose college graduates have some of the highest student loan debt in the nation.

The president's student loan pitch was but a platform for his larger goal: courting college voters, whose enthusiasm he will need in the November election.

Logan James, a University of Iowa sophomore who planned to attend Obama's rally, said he believed young voters would be up for grabs in the general election. They understand that Obama took office during a recession but he needs to win back the trust of some voters, he said.

"I think people want to see what he has to offer for the next four years, what he's going to bring to the table," he said. "Most people just want to know, can he get the economy moving again?"

Before his speech, and sitting before TV cameras and photographers, Obama chatted with five Iowa students to hear about their career dreams and debt burdens.

While young voters were solidly behind Obama in the 2008 election, they are being aggressively wooed by Romney. His campaign is hoping it can appeal to young voters burdened by a bleak employment picture and student loan debt.

In 2008, Obama had a 34 percentage-point advantage over McCain among voters under age 30.

But new polling suggests the president may face a harder sales job with younger voters this time around.

___

Associated Press writers Ryan Foley in Iowa City, Iowa, and Philip Elliott in Washington contributed to this report.

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