MADISON, Wis. (AP) â€” If President Barack Obama is going to do as well as he needs to with young voters in battleground Wisconsin, he's got to hope there are more Emily Wiersemas than Cody Comerfords.
Wiersema, a 22-year-old University of Wisconsin-Madison senior, voted for Obama in 2008 and sees no reason not to stick with him this year. She describes herself as socially liberal but fiscally moderate.
Comerford, a 24-year-old salesman who lives near Green Bay, voted for Obama when he was in college but has soured on the president since joining the workforce.
"I've seen so many of my friends not have too many options to pursue the jobs they want to get," said Comerford, who is now backing Republican Mitt Romney.
Both campaigns have courted young voters, but nowhere more aggressively than in Wisconsin, which is considered a key piece of any strategy for winning the presidency this year. Though Obama won the state handily in 2008 and garnered a large share of the 18-29 age group, Romney believes victory here is within reach if can chip away at that youth advantage.
The Democrats' concern is illustrated by the candidates' campaign schedule. Vice President Joe Biden attracted a crowd of 3,000 on a small western Wisconsin university campus earlier this month, and hundreds of UW-Madison students are expected at an Obama rally in Milwaukee Saturday. So far the White House attention seems to be paying off. A poll out this week shows Obama holding his advantage among Wisconsin voters younger than 30.
Romney, especially since adding 42-year-old Wisconsin native Paul Ryan to the ticket, has pressed the argument that younger voters have reason to be disillusioned with Obama after four years of a weak economy that has left many of them underemployed and living with their parents.
"College graduates should not have to live out their 20s in their childhood bedrooms, staring up at fading Obama posters," Ryan said in a plea to younger voters at the Republican National Convention.
Obama may not be able spark the same excitement his candidacy did four years ago when overflow crowds showed up for a speech at the 17,000-seat UW-Madison basketball arena, but a Marquette University Law School poll released Wednesday had him leading Romney 64 percent to 33 percent in the below-30 age group. That parallels the share of the youth vote he won in 2008 in Wisconsin, which he carried by 14 points overall.
The Marquette poll showed Obama leading Romney 54 percent to 40 percent in all age groups less than seven weeks away from Election Day. A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday showed a much closer race, with Obama ahead 51 percent to 45 percent in Wisconsin.
The support among young voters will be a boon to Obama if it can get them to the polls. Wisconsin traditionally has had one of the highest rates of young voter turnout â€” 58 percent in 2008.
In March, the Obama campaign dispatched former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs to Madison for a video conference to mobilize the campus vote nationwide. Campaign representatives have arranged tickets for students to attend the Milwaukee rally.
The Romney campaign hopes to recruit students by using the voter outreach bank built for Gov. Scott Walker's recall campaign last spring. The Republican Party said it contacted 4.5 million voters in the effort that helped Walker defeat the recall.
The GOP held organizing events on UW campuses in Madison and Milwaukee this week. On Thursday, Ann Romney campaigned at Marquette University in Milwaukee.
Party spokesman Nathan Conrad said that volunteers have knocked on 72 times as many doors and called more than five times as many voters than in 2008.
Samantha Zager, a 20-year-old Marquette junior and co-chair of the Young Americans for Romney Coalition in Wisconsin, said she thinks support for Romney is greater on campus than some might realize.
"Especially those who voted for Obama in 2008, they're becoming very disillusioned," Zager said. "Obama delivered empty promises he's not fulfilling. They're coming out of college without a job."
Wiersema said she decided to take an online quiz to see what candidate she agreed with most. The results showed her on Obama's side 75 percent of the time.
"Obviously the economy is in the forefront, but social issues tend to have more of a standing with me right now," said the political science and environmental studies major from Sun Prairie.
But Wiersema and Chris Konshak, a 25-year-old Green Bay paper company employee who also supports Obama, agrees that enthusiasm for him has waned.
"You kind of realize it's going to be a grind, not the hope and sunshine he tried to portray in 2008," said Konshak.
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