President Obama made himself right at home in the liberal stronghold of Boulder on Tuesday, and created quite a buzz in the process.
A pit stop for pizza at the infamous campus dive bar The Sink resulted in a viral snapshot of Obama with his hand around shocked CU Boulder student Madalyn Starkey.
There was also a brief dairy obsession in the national media after another CU student, Kolbi Zerbest, was instructed by Secret Service agents to put down her cup of yogurt, which later was accidentally spilt on the president’s leg.
That’s not to say there was nothing of substance involved in the president’s visit to the Colorado college town. Obama primarily addressed the crowd on the subject of the Stafford federal student loan interest rates, and more generally, the need to “invest in education.”
More than 166,500 Colorado college students receive federally subsidized Stafford student loans, which currently have an interest rate of 3.4 percent.
Barring congressional action, that rate will double to 6.8 percent on July 1 this year, resulting in additional cost per-year of about $1,000 for each student.
Obama pointed out that when Congress first cut the rates five years ago, 77 House Republicans voted in favor of the legislation.
“Today, you’ve got Republicans who run Congress, and they’re not saying whether or not they’re going to stop your rates from doubling,” Obama said. “Some have hinted that they’d only do it if we cut things like aid for low-income students instead.”
But perhaps more noteworthy than the actual content of his speech was the reaction the president received from the crowd of roughly 11,000 at the Coors Event Center, the vast majority of them college aged.
The crowd symbolized a demographicthat many critics see as a crucial voting block Obama will need to re-energize if he plans to win reelection in the fall. Many have questioned the president’s ability to carry the age group as successfully as he did in the 2008 election.
Nonetheless, students packed into the arena, which was buzzing a good two hours before the president took the stage there. Spontaneous chants of “Obama” and “four more years” erupted sporadically, and the crowd routinely did “the wave.”
Students were reported to have been lining up outside the arena as early as 5 a.m. in anticipation of the president’s 7 p.m. speech.
At one point, an audience member exclaimed, “We believe in you!” The crowd cheered in response, and Obama continued without missing a beat, telling the crowd, “I believe in you, I believe in you.”
Obama relatedto the students in the event center by telling him he and First Lady Michelle Obama had only just stopped paying off their student loans eight years ago.
“Think about that,” Obama said to laughter and applause. “I’m the President of the United States, and we were writing those checks every month.”
The majority of the speech was positive in tone and the president rarely alluded to likely Republican nominee Mitt Romney, except at one palpable moment when Obama told the crowd, “We can’t simply cut our way to prosperity.”
Obama also made reference to the latest Paul Ryan budget proposal, which allowed the Stafford interest loan rates to reset back to their original unsubsidized rate of 6.8 percent.
Hitting on the populist theme that Obama has channeled in the last few months, the president told the crowd, “[Republicans] say that, well, we’ve got to do it because we’ve got to bring down the deficit. Now, first of all, these are the guys that ran up the deficit.”
“These are the same folks who voted in favor of two wars without paying for it, and big tax cuts without paying for it,” Obama said. “They voted to keep billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies to big oil companies who are raking in record profits.”
The president continued along that theme, rebutting Republican attacks that he is for punishing wealth and success. “In America, we admire success,” he said. “We aspire to it.”
The president added, “America is not just about a few people doing well. America is about everybody having the chance to do well. That’s what the American Dream is all about.”
The last visit to Boulder by a sitting president occurred 58 years ago when President Dwight D. Eisenhower spoke to a crowd roughly the same size.
Obama had visited the University of North Carolina to deliver a similar speech earlier in the day on Tuesday, and spent the night in Denver before flying out on Wednesday to deliver a speech at the University of Iowa.