DURHAM, N.H. -- Former President Bill Clinton on Wednesday urged out-of-state college students to vote in the battleground state of New Hampshire, accusing Republicans of trying to take away their rights.
Clinton criticized the state's disputed new voter registration law while campaigning for President Barack Obama at the University of New Hampshire. He said while some students may believe this election doesn't matter, "Republicans in New Hampshire think it matters – that's why they've worked so hard to keep you from voting," he said.
Students traditionally have been allowed to declare the state their domicile for voting purposes without holding legal residency, which involves an intent to stay for an extended period of time. A federal judge ruled in 1972 that New Hampshire could not forbid out-of-state students from voting in the state even if they planned to leave after graduation, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled similarly seven years later.
But under a law passed over Democratic Gov. John Lynch's veto this year, new voters would be required to sign a statement saying they are subject to laws that apply to all residents, including laws requiring drivers to register cars and get a New Hampshire driver's license. The statement doesn't specifically require students to be residents but makes them subject to hundreds of laws involving residency.
Out-of-state college students have challenged the law, and the matter remains tied up in court five weeks before the election.
In the meantime, the Obama campaign has been actively urging out-of-state students to register in New Hampshire, telling them that their vote "counts more" in a swing state. Republican legislative leaders strongly object, saying legal residents shouldn't have their votes diluted by students.
Clinton, who spoke hours before the first debate between Obama and Republican Mitt Romney, also told students that the candidates' positions on the student loan system was reason enough to favor Obama.
Obama wants to make tax credits for college expenses permanent and expand Pell grants for lower-earning families. Romney, who stresses the need to curb college costs, says that making government the direct source of federal student loans has not worked and simply drives tuition higher.
Clinton argued that returning to the old system will give subsidies to banks and make student loans more expensive and more difficult to re-pay.
"Nothing could more clearly state the difference in approaches to our long-term economic challenges," he said. "Not every job in the 21st century will require a four-year degree, but almost every job will be created by someone who has one."
Beyond education, Clinton cast the election as a choice between a nation that celebrates diversity, cooperation and shared prosperity and one built on conflict and an "on your own attitude." And he argued that Obama's economic plan is better both in the short term and long term than Romney's.
"The only reason this is a race is that we're Americans, we're impatient, we want things fixed yesterday, and the economy is not fixed," he said.
It was Clinton's second trip to New Hampshire in just over two months. In late July, he campaigned for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Maggie Hassan. Obama won New Hampshire in 2008, and recent polls have given him an edge over Romney in the state where Romney owns a summer home and has maintained a significant campaign presence since the January presidential primary.