(AP) - President Barack Obama is returning to the University of Wisconsin to ask young voters who helped propel him to the White House to support fellow Democrats in key races for governor and U.S. Senate.
Tuesday's visit carries a decidedly different political atmosphere than the one that surrounded the then-candidate in 2008, when a boisterous overflow crowd of more than 17,000 people greeted Obama at the
During a Monday conference call with college journalists, Obama acknowledged excitement has waned in the last two years. But he said he hoped the
"You can't sit it out," Obama said. "You can't suddenly just check in once every 10 years or so, on an exciting presidential election, and then not pay attention during big midterm elections where we've got a real big choice between Democrats and Republicans."
One of the biggest choices facing
Feingold's absence this time around may be more curious given his reliance on college students and independent voters to fuel his wins. In 2004, exit polls showed voters ages 18-29 favored Feingold 56 percent to 42 percent over Republican Tim Michels, mirroring Feingold's 55 percent to 44 percent margin of victory.
They helped give Obama a surprisingly large 14-point win in Wisconsin, far greater than the margin in the two previous presidential elections in which the Democrat won the state by less than half a percentage point.
Democrats hoped the momentum would carry into the midterm, but
The enthusiasm gap could prove particularly precarious for Democrats this year because so many more young voters supported them in 2008, said Peter Levine, director of CIRCLE.
"The story of how much the turnout falls is a story about how disillusioned the Democratic base is now," Levine said.
The mood on campus has shifted as well, said
"A lot of students just kind of blindly followed him because that's what everyone else was doing because he was the cool candidate," Novak, 21, said of Obama.
Novak said student efforts backing
"I think all around there's a general excitement about conservative candidates who are going to change the way our state and nation is run," said Novak, who is working with Republican students on 20 other
Sondra Milkie, volunteer coordinator for the College Democrats of Madison, said students are working just as hard to get Feingold and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Barrett elected this year.
"They are incredibly excited," said Milkie, also a 21-year-old senior. "I think people know this election is important to students."
The state Democratic Party has a dozen paid campus organizers working with college Democrats statewide to make phone calls, distribute leaflets and help students get registered and turn out Nov. 2, said party chairman Mike Tate.
They are using the same tactics as during the 2008 campaign, which focused heavily on social networking websites and cell phone text messaging to organize students, said Tate, who predicted the president's visit would be "an absolute shot in the arm for the base of our party."
But the event is organized as more youth-focused pep rally than policy discussion. Popular rock band the National, along with singer-songwriter Ben Harper, are scheduled to warm up the crowd.
And despite Feingold's absence, the White House clearly recognizes holding his seat is essential to maintaining Democratic control of the Senate. First lady Michelle Obama plans to host a fundraiser for Feingold in