"Michelle and I, we've been in your shoes," Obama, who turns 51 in August, told a cheering, capacity crowd of 8,000 at Carmichael Arena.
"Check this out, all right. I'm the president of the United States. We only finished paying off our student loans off about eight years ago. That wasn't that long ago. And that wasn't easy--especially because when we had Malia and Sasha, we're supposed to be saving up for their college educations, and we're still paying off our college educations," he said.
The president's emphasis on his modest upbringing seemed designed to invite comparisons to presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney. The White House has denied specifically targeting the multi-millionaire financier with such attacks even as the Obama campaign has pointedly attacked Romney's personal finances.
Obama's stop in North Carolina was the first on a two-day, campaign-style swing through battleground states to reengage young voters who powered his historic 2008 campaign but seem less enthused about the 2012 election. His chief policy message was an appeal for Congress to renew legislation to stop interest rates on a popular student loan from doubling July 1 from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent."I didn't just read about this. I didn't just get some talking points about this. I didn't just get a policy briefing on this," the president said to laughter from the crowd.
"We didn't come from wealthy families. When we graduated from college and law school we had a mountain of debt. When we married, we got poor together. We added up our assets and there were no assets. And we added up our liabilities and there were lot of liabilities—basically in the form of student loans," Obama said of himself and Michelle Obama.
The president said he and his wife paid more on their student loans than they did on the mortgage on their condo during their first eight years of marriage.
The Republican National Committee and the Romney campaign had struck preemptively at Obama's message even before he had left the Beltway, holding conference calls to underscore young workers' struggles in the three years since he took office amid a fragile US economic recovery. The Associated Press recently reported that 53.6 percent of bachelor's degree holders under 25 years old are either jobless or underemployed.
Romney came out Monday in favor of extending the current rate, even as he thumped what he called Obama's "failed leadership on the economy."
"Given the bleak job prospects that young Americans coming out of college face today, I encourage Congress to temporarily extend the current low rate on subsidized undergraduate Stafford loans," he said.
UPDATE 5:20 p.m. ET: This post has been updated to replace an RNC comment with a quotation from Mitt Romney.
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