Thousands of college students braved record-high temperatures and intermittent rain for the chance to hear President Barack Obama at the University of Colorado in Boulder.
Obama talked about student loans at the Coors Events Center as part of a three-state trip.
The event was open to students and the general public who picked up tickets earlier this week. There was no assigned seating so some who wanted to make sure they got up close to the stage began lining up at 5 a.m., even though the doors didn't open until 4 p.m.
When the president entered the events center, he told students that he had eaten pizza at The Sink. When Obama's motorcade stopped at the popular bar on Boulder's Hill, he shook hands and posed for pictures with patrons before heading to the events center.
An enthusiastic crowd greeted the president as he bounded up the stairs to the podium.
Obama said he and his wife are standing here today because "scholarships and student loans gave us a shot at a great education." He said he and Michelle Obama only paid off their student loans 8 year ago.
"Think about that. I'm the president of the United States," he said.
Without mentioning her by name, Obama cited North Carolina Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx, quoting her from a recent radio interview with G. Gordon Liddy in which she said, "I have very little tolerance for people who tell me that they graduate with $200,000 of debt."
Obama said allowing the interest rates to double this summer would hurt more than 7 million students, costing the average student $1,000 and amounting to a "tax hike" for those students and their families.
"Anybody here can afford to pay an extra thousand dollars right now?" Obama asked to jeers from the crowd. "I don't think so."
CU Boulder student Madalyn Starkey expresses her surprise when the president of the United States strolled into The Sink in Boulder and posed for a picture.
Obama wants Congress to prevent interest rates on student loans from doubling. The interest rate for new subsidized Stafford loans will double in July unless Congress acts.
He asked audience members to call Congress and tell them, "Don't double my (student loan) rate."
The president's backers are worried that student support for Obama is not as strong as it was four years ago, and that this speech will help stabilize support from younger voters.
Many students stood in line for hours at the Coors Events Center on Sunday to get tickets to see Obama on Tuesday.
His speech lasted about 30 minutes and he paused to shake hands with students before leaving the venue.
Obama is the first president to visit Boulder in nearly 60 years. President Dwight D. Eisenhower traveled there in 1954 to dedicate what is now the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
The president flew via a Marine One chopper to City Park, around 8:30 p.m., and then took a motorcade to Cherry Creek North for an overnight stay.
"On Wednesday morning the President will motorcade back to Buckley AFB for his departure around 9 a.m. He should leave around 8:30 with roads closing down 20 minutes before that, and could either head down Colorado Boulevard to I-70 then on I-225 to 6th and then to Buckley. I've also seen the motorcade in the past go down Alameda so that may be an option," 7NEWS traffic reporter Jason Luber said. "Hopefully, the worst of the morning rush will be over by the time the president leaves Wednesday morning."
Obama On Blitz In Strategically Important States In South, Midwest, West
Trying to woo young voters, Obama is on a blitz to keep the cost of college loans from soaring for millions of students, taking his message to three states strategically important to his re-election bid. By taking on student debt, Obama is speaking to middle-class America and targeting an enormous burden that threatens the economic recovery.
Before Obama got his road trip under way, Republican opponent Mitt Romney found a way to steal some thunder from the president's campaign argument: He agreed with it.
The competitors are now on record for freezing the current interest rates on a popular federal loan for poorer and middle-class students. The issue is looming because the rate will double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent on July 1 without intervention by Congress, an expiration date chosen in 2007 when a Democratic Congress voted to chop the rate in half.
Obama is heading to campuses in the South, West and Midwest to sell his message to colleges audiences bound to support it. As he pressures Republicans in Congress to act, he will also be trying to energize the young people essential to his campaign -- those who voted for him last time and the many more who have turned voting age since then.
The president spoke Tuesday at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Colorado at Boulder, and then the University of Iowa on Wednesday. All three universities are in states that Obama carried in 2008, and all three states are considered among the several that could swing to Obama or Romney and help decide a close 2012 election.
Both campaigns are fighting for the support of voters buried in college debt. The national debt amassed on student loans is higher than that for credit cards or auto loans.
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York has estimated about 15 percent of Americans, or 37 million people, have outstanding student loan debt. The banks put the total at $870 billion, though other estimates have reached $1 trillion. About two-thirds of student loan debt is held by people under 30.
Obama, previewing the message he will give at all three colleges, said over the weekend that allowing the interest rates to double this summer would hurt more than 7 million students. The White House said it would cost students $1,000, based on the average amount borrowed a year ($4,200) and the average time it takes to pay the loan (12 years).
"That would be a tremendous blow," Obama said. "And it's completely preventable."
Romney agreed with that conclusion even in the midst of blasting Obama's economic leadership. "Given the bleak job prospects that young Americans coming out of college face today, I encourage Congress to temporarily extend the low rate," Romney said in a statement.
Obama and Romney are championing what amounts to a one-year, election-year fix at a cost of roughly $6 billion. Congress seems headed that way. Members of both parties are assessing ways to cover the costs and win the votes in the House and Senate, which is far from a political certainty. All parties involved have political incentive to keep the rates as they are.
Obama carried voters between the ages of 18-29 by a margin of about 2-to-1 in 2008, but many recent college graduates have faced high levels of unemployment. That raises concerns for the president about whether they will vote and volunteer for him in such large numbers again.
Copyright Report a typo or inaccuracyIf you have a news tip or a follow-up to this story, e-mail us.Copyright 2012 by TheDenverChannel.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.