Obama Re-Election Campaign Kicks Off Youth Effort

It was like old times, as DJ Nemysis blasted the Black Eyed Peas and snips of President Obama's 2008 calls for hope and change (with dramatic reverb) in Houston Hall at the University of Pennsylvania Wednesday night.

Except the calendar is rushing toward 2012, the economy is poor, and one of the biggest questions for Obama's reelection campaign is whether it can rekindle the excitement, especially among the young voters who turned out in record numbers to help put the skinny senator with the funny name in the White House.

About 500 students from several area colleges turned out for the Obama Student Summit, a pep rally and panel discussion - webcast live to 80 campsues around the nation - to unveil what campaign manager Jim Messina called "a historic grassroots effort" to engage voters in the 18-to-29 year old cohort.

In 2008, Obama carried two-thirds of younger voters and they comprised a record 18 percent of the electorate, a large part of the winning coalition.

“What people don’t focus on is there’s 8 million voters who are 18 to 21 who weren’t old enough to vote last time and who are going to cast their first vote for Barack Obama,” Messina told the crowd in Penn's Hall of Flags Wednesday. On a show of hands, about a third of the audience indicated they planned to cast their first votes in a presidential election next year.

"Your older brothers and sisters started it, and you're going to complete it," Messina said to wild applause.

Melody Barnes, an adviser to Obama, warned that if the Republicans win back the White House, the progress that has been made - health care reform, tighter regulation of Wall Street, initiatives that cap the cost of student loans - will be rolled back.

“When you leave your campuses, do you want to walk into your professional lives in a country that’s leaning forward or one that’s leaning backward?” Barnes said.