Consider North Carolina. Obama won it by fewer than 14,000 votes, making him the first Democrat to carry the state since 1976.
Rick Wiley, the RNC's political director, said Democrats pulled off that victory by registering "a boatload of college kids." But fast forward four years and "those college kids are not going to be there. They're not on campuses anymore. They're probably under-employed," he said.
As a result, Democrats and Republicans alike have to court a new class of college-age voters this election cycle, not just in traditional GOP states like North Carolina, Virginia and Indiana that helped push Obama to victory in 2008, but across the country.
"It's time for a change, and a lot of young voters I've seen are losing faith in Obama," said Maggie Cleary, head of the Washington, D.C., Students for Romney chapter and president of Georgetown University College Republicans. "The biggest challenge we're going to have is exciting people about Gov. Romney. ... They don't know a lot about him other than that he's quote, unquote boring."
That's one reason why Romney's advisers and the RNC want to turn the election into a vote against Obama, and not necessarily into a vote for Romney.
Paul Conway, a former chief of staff to former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, said the "new normal" for college students and 20-somethings is a series of part-time jobs or unpaid internships.
"These are the people who are feeling the impact of the policies," said Conway, who runs Generation Opportunity, a nonpartisan group created to encourage young people to vote. "They believe Washington is mortgaging their future. They're watching Washington put them further in to debt."
The last Republican presidential candidate to win voters under age 30 was Republican George H.W. Bush. He won 52 percent of those voters on his way to defeating Democrat Michael Dukakis in 1988.
Associated Press Deputy Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.
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