Addressing an eager audience of students at N.C. Central University’s rally for President Barack Obama Tuesday night, actress Gabrielle Union began a cheer: “Fired up?”
“Ready to go,” the students answered with unfading enthusiasm, which the Democratic leaders present at the event hope will last through November.
The NCCU auditorium seats 500 — and all seats were filled. The line to get in still reached around the front of the building and down the street until the students moved into two overflow rooms.
While Union was the crowd favorite, Barack Obama’s senior advisor Valerie Jarrett and campaign manager Jim Messina also participated.
And U.S. Reps. G.K. Butterfield and David Price, D-N.C., gave short speeches urging students to turn out and keep the state Democratic.
“There’s not a game plan we have where you’re not absolutely critical,” Price said.
NCCU’s event was the first stop in a tour of National HBCU Obama Student Summits, an effort to re-energize one of Obama’s reliable bases in students of historically black colleges and universities.
In 2008, the state turned blue largely thanks to a massive turnout of young voters, 70 percent of whom voted for the president.
Still, Democrats won the state by a margin of just 14,000 votes.
“We won the battle in 2008,” said Greg Jackson, North Carolina’s director for Organizing for America, who also spoke at the event.
“We’ve got what we worked for, but it’s not going to be easy to win that battle again.”
Obama’s campaign opened a sixth field office in North Carolina last week to jump-start the ground campaign in the battleground state.
With Gallup polls showing Obama’s approval ratings at 44 percent Tuesday, Obama’s team sought to redeem his image.
“The change is being delivered every single day,” Messina said. “But we’ve still got work to do.”
Each speaker focused on Obama as a man of his word and a man of the people, with an intense focus on improving education and careers for the college-aged population.
Students in the room and online, tweeting under the hashtag #HBCU2012, asked questions of the Obama team, which were answered with attacks on the right and defenses of the administration’s policies.
Brian Kennedy, a senior at NCCU, asked how the administration had helped students who couldn’t afford unpaid internships or worked to pay for school. And Union asked how Obama had invested in jobs for college graduates in coming years.
Obama increased funding for Pell Grants and HBCU’s around the country under an executive order in 2010, Jarrett said.
“Every single day he comes to the office with you in his mind,” she said, recalling Obama’s past efforts to pay off his and his wife’s student loans.
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