BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — President Barack Obama has a warning these days for young voters: Mitt Romney and the Republicans want to keep you away from the polls.
Nothing illegal. More like suppression by depression.
Tucked into his campaign speeches, Obama regularly asserts that the Republican presidential nominee and the outside political machinery supporting him want to get voters so down and disillusioned that they will decide their votes don't matter.
The message is not so much that such apathy would be bad for democracy, but that it would be bad for Obama. The president's advantage among young voters will be eroded if they get so turned off by it all that they have no compelling reason to vote.
"But understand, over the next two months, the other side is going to spend more money than we've ever seen in our lives with an avalanche of attacks ads and insults, and making stuff up, just making stuff up," Obama told roughly 13,000 students packed into a quad at the University of Colorado on Sunday.
"And what they're counting on is that you get so discouraged by this that at a certain point you say, 'You know what, I'm going to leave it up to someone else.' ... I'm counting on something different. I'm counting on you."
Left unsaid by the president are the negatives ads run by his campaign under his direct approval.
The support of young voters proved vital to Obama last time, and the Democratic incumbent still needs them. In an Associated Press-GfK poll released recently, 54 percent of registered voters under 35 said they would vote for Obama, compared to 38 percent for Romney. Older voters split about evenly.
For the 2012 version of candidate Obama, the line of criticism is a way to keep hope alive.
Weighed down by a struggling economy, devoid of the fresh change message and historical nature of his last campaign, Obama needs to inspire faith among young adults through not just his policy ideas on education and job opportunities, but with a sharp suggestion that the GOP ticket is aiming to keep them down.
The Obama campaign has gone negative, too, targeting Romney's transparency about his wealth and taxes and raising questions about his honesty. Romney, in response, has gone so far as to tell Obama to take his "campaign of division and anger" back to his hometown of Chicago.
Both campaigns and outside political groups have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on negative ads.
In the states that will determine the election, Obama keeps devoting time to college campuses, as he did Sunday before an outdoor crowd of thousands at the University of Colorado. When he ran in 2008, voter turnout among those 18 to 24 was at its highest level since 1972. No other age group had such an increase.
That is why, with two months to go, Obama at times sounds more like a registrar of voters than commander in chief.
Imploring college students and 20-something adults to back him again, Obama steers them to special campaign websites that will help them register and cast their votes. He even spells out their web addresses for them, letter by letter. When they jeered Romney, Obama said: "Don't boo. Vote."
A Romney spokesman, Ryan Williams, said Obama's charge of trying to make voters disillusioned reflect the same "dirty political tactics" Obama once criticized. Williams said: "Voters will be motivated in November to go to the polls and replace President Obama with a fiscally responsible leader like Mitt Romney."
Romney has also tried to tap into voter discontent, making the pitch to Obama backers that it is OK to be disappointed with him even if they like him.
In 2008, Obama won two-thirds of the vote among college-age adults 18-24 and 18-29 years old, compared with just 32 percent for Republican Sen. John McCain, according to exit polls. Obama's win was dependent on a huge margin among young people, bigger than any candidate has had in modern exit polling.
Associated Press writer Beth Fouhy in Charlotte, N.C., contributed to this report.
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