AMES, Iowa — President Barack Obama campaigned under a scorching sun on a college campus here to rally young voters, but kept an eye on the hurricane swirling toward the Gulf Coast on Tuesday, as did Republicans in Tampa, who were celebrating the nomination of Mitt Romney.
The storm headed toward Louisiana was threatening New Orleans on the eve of the seven-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, keeping the presidential campaigns on the alert for any political fallout.
Before leaving on a two-day campus tour to the swing states of Iowa, Colorado and Virginia, the president made an unscheduled statement at the White House, a brief update on his administration's preparations and a warning to residents in the path not "to tempt fate" or "dismiss official warnings."
He kicked off his remarks at Iowa State University with a nod to the looming threat. "Before I begin, I think it's important to say that our thoughts are with our fellow Americans down on the gulf," Obama said. "Americans will be there to help folks recovering. When this disaster strikes, we're not Democrats or Republicans first, we are American first."
Obama campaigned as Romney arrived at the Republican National Convention, bucking a tradition of lying low during an opponent's party gathering. Campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki said recent candidates also had campaigned during conventions and emphasized the campaign feels it has no time to waste.
Obama is seeking to reignite the enthusiasm that won him an overwhelming advantage with young voters four years ago. The president bested Sen. John McCain with voters under 30 by a 2-1 ratio. But despite the attention and energy aimed at young voters, turnout only ticked up by 1 percentage point — to 18 percent of the vote — evidence of how difficult it is to boost voting among young voters.
That was Obama's challenge as he headed to three college campuses just as students were settling into a new school year. Obama addressed a crowd of about 6,000 at Iowa State.
"It's going to depend on you to close that gap between what America is and what we know America can be," he said. "I'm asking you to believe. I'm asking you to believe in what you can accomplish. We've come too far to turn back now."
Obama's case to young voters leans on his efforts to make college affordable, including his support for Pell Grants, overhaul of the federal student aid program, and push to keep interest rates low for some student loans.
In a fuller pitch on Tuesday, he also emphasized foreign policy.
"I said we'd end the Iraq war. We did. I said we'd get bin Laden. We did," Obama said to cheers.
He also highlighted his health care law and the provision that allows young people to stay on their parents' insurance until they turn 26. He embraced the label "Obamacare," which Republicans use derisively. "I do care," he said, and then proposed a new name for his rival's health plan.
"Maybe we should call his plan Romney doesn't care," Obama quipped.
Obama also campaigned Tuesday night at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. Today, he will hold a rally at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.