FORT COLLINS — President Barack Obama took the stage here, telling a cheering crowd that they as college students have a bigger stake than anybody in this year's presidential election.
"The choice you make will shape this country, your world and your lives for decades to come," he said during a roughly 25 minute speech.
The decision will affect the future of the economy, climate change, the Supreme Court and wars.
"These are all decisions that will affect you very directly," Obama said. "Your generation can chose the path we take this country in."
He urged students to get involved in a push to register more voters. He said the Rocky Mountain Showdown football game between Colorado State and the University of Colorado was this Saturday. But he said he was issuing another challenge to the two schools to see which could register more new voters.
"We need you guys to get your friends, your classmates and neighbors to register because this is important," Obama said. "If you are not registered, get registered."
Thousands of people were gathered in Monfort Quad listening to the the president. Before his arrival music blared from loudspeakers and a marine helicopter circled the campus.
This was the first time a sitting U.S. president had visited the campus, according to CSU officials. And Obama made it clear to the crowd that winning the swing state of Colorado was critical for him in a tightly contested race against his GOP opponent Mitt Romney.
"If we win Colorado, we win this election," he said. "If we win Fort Collins, we win Colorado. If we win Fort Collins, we finish what we started."
Tuesday's visit to Colorado was the president's second stop on a two-day, three-state blitz of college campuses in swing states crucial to his bid for re-election.
Obama spoke about the spiraling costs of a college education. He said he and his wife, Michelle, just finished paying off their student loans eight years ago, and the tax credits for college tuition should be maintained.
The campaign has touted that the president's college tax credit benefited an estimated 152,000 students in Colorado in 2011. Moreover, the campaign said, under the Obama administration, funding for the Pell Grant scholarship increased. The grants benefitted 158,000 Colorado students in 2010 — 5, 496 of those students at Colorado State.
In addition to higher education, Obama hammered home his support for renewable energy, his Affordable Care Act health plan, and for women, immigrants and gay rights.
He said Romney, if elected, has promised to repeal "Obamacare" in the first days of his administration, and that will force many young people off their parents' health plans.
"This is what's called the Romney doesn't-care plan," the president said. "I'm not going to leave millions of Americans out in the cold. That's what I'm fighting for. That's what's at stake in this election."
On national security, Obama said he went after Osama Bin Laden and brought home troops from Iraq and is winding down the war in Afghanistan. By bringing troops home, "we'll be able to start doing some nation building at home," he said.
The visit comes just weeks after Obama embarked on a four-stop tour of the state that took him from Denver to the Western Slope and south to Pueblo and Colorado Springs.
Obama won this swing state in 2008 with more than 52 percent of the vote.
But four years later, several national polls show the president in a neck-and-neck race with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in Colorado.
"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to see him here," said Rachel Scanlan, a graduate student studying food science, before the president spoke.
Obama's speech comes on the same afternoon that several leaders in the Republican party address delegates at their convention in Tampa, Fla. Delegates also officially nominated Romney for office.
A few blocks from Monfort Quad, Romney supporters gathered before the president's visit to rally for the former Massachusetts governor and his running mate, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan. They had help from the "Romney Victory Bus," which finished up a four-day tour of Colorado on Tuesday with stops in Fort Collins, Littleton, Longmont and Greenwood Village. At the Fort Collins rally, former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton, a CSU grad, told the college students in the crowd of about 150 she is concerned about the kind of country their generation will inherit.
Aslinn Scott, a 20-year-old junior at the University of Colorado who co-chairs Young Americans for Romney, accused Obama of ignoring young people's needs for most of his administration, noting that half of college graduates under age 25 are unemployed or underemployed.
Scott, a communications major from Evergreen, said she's worried not just about the kind of job market she might find when she graduates, but also for her friends who are seniors who are will be finishing college next spring.
"I don't know what they have to look forward to," she said. "Colorado needs to go red this year not just for my generation's sake, but for our country's future."
In the audience, one college student held a sign that stated "Can't wait to graduate and move in with Mom and Dad."
Earlier Tuesday, Obama spoke at Iowa State University. He will spend the night in Fort Collins, before then moving on to the University of Virginia Wednesday.
Obama will be back in Colorado this weekend, when he is scheduled to speak Sunday in Boulder.