NEW YORK (AP) — President Barack Obama crisscrossed Manhattan on Monday for a series of targeted appeals to a trio of key election-year constituencies: women, young people, and gay and lesbian supporters.
During a commencement address at Barnard College, a private women’s college, he urged the graduates to fight for their place at “the head of the table” and help lead a country still battered by economic woes toward brighter days. Obama said “I believe that the women of this generation will help lead the way.”
Later Monday, Obama was to headline his first fundraiser specifically for gay and lesbian supporters since announcing his support for same-sex marriage last week. Democrats hope Obama’s politically risky embrace of gay marriage will re-energize supporters who had been frustrated by his previous assertions that his views on the hot-button social issue were “evolving.”
Women, young people and gay voters all made up crucial voting blocs for Obama in the 2008 election. And with the president locked in a close race with Republican rival Mitt Romney, his campaign is focused on rallying support among those groups once again.
The president’s choice of Barnard as his first commencement address of the spring underscored the intense focus both candidates have placed on women. An Associated Press-GfK poll conducted earlier this month showed Obama with a sizable advantage over Romney with women voters, 54 percent to 39 percent.
Obama acknowledged that today’s college graduates are entering a shaky job market. But to those who say overcoming the nation’s challenges isn’t possible, Obama said: “Don’t believe it.”
He told the graduates that if they ever despair, they should think of the country’s history and what young generations before them have achieved.
“Young folks who marched and mobilized and stood up and sat in from Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall they didn’t just do it for themselves, they did it for other people,” Obama said. “That’s how we achieved women’s rights, that’s how we achieved voting rights, that’s how we achieved workers’ rights, that’s how we achieved gay rights, that’s how we’ve made this union more perfect.”
After the speech, Obama taped an appearance on ABC’s “The View”, a daytime talk show hosted by five women. The interview was to air Tuesday.
Obama also was to speak to about 200 supporters at a fundraiser hosted by singer Ricky Martin and the LGBT Leadership Council. Ticket prices started at $5,000 per person.
The fundraiser followed Obama’s historic, yet politically risky, announcement last Wednesday that he personally believes gay couples should have the right to marry.
Obama had insisted for more than a year that his views on gay marriage were “evolving.” Even before his public announcement, many gay rights advocates believed he already had decided privately to support same-sex marriage, but was holding back on a public announcement for fear of losing support among socially conservative independent voters.
Senior administration officials said Obama had always planned to endorse publicly before his party’s nominating convention in September. But the White House’s search for a perfectly crafted opportunity to make the politically sensitive announcement was derailed May 6. That’s when Vice President Joe Biden said in a television interview that he was “absolutely comfortable” with gay married couples having the same rights as heterosexual couples.
Three days later Obama, in a hastily arranged interview, declared that it was time for him to “affirm” his belief that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.
A new poll by the Pew Research Center found that about half of those surveyed say Obama’s support for same-sex marriage does not affect their opinion of the president, with about one-fourth saying they feel less favorably toward him and 19 percent feeling more favorably.
There was a big disparity between older and younger adults surveyed, indicating a more intensely negative reaction among older Americans. Forty-two percent of people over the age of 65 said they viewed the president less favorably because of his decision, while 62 percent of respondents between the ages of 18 and 29 said Obama’s announcement did not affect their opinion of him.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.