President Barack Obama wooed Americans not yet old enough to vote Monday in a unique children’s television news special that his rival Mitt Romney opted to avoid.
Obama fielded pre-recorded questions from under-18s on topics as varied as the economy, gun control, gay marriage and heartbreak during the half-hour program titled “Kids Pick the President: The Candidates.”
“The good news is that we’re starting to bounce back,” said Obama in reply to a 14-year-old Texan’s question about hard times and the middle class. “The most important thing for you guys is making sure you’ve got a great education.”
Television news veteran Linda Ellerbee, who hosted the show on the Nickelodeon children’s channel, told viewers that Romney had been asked since April to participate in the show.
But his team replied they were “unable to fit it in” to his schedule — leaving producers to put together a mash-up of Romney sound bites from the campaign trail in the interest of equal time.
“I don’t know if it’s a bad thing for the Romney campaign (not to participate), but it is a bad thing for the Nickelodeon audience,” Ellerbee told AFP a few hours before Monday’s broadcast.
“The point of our show is not about who wins. It’s about engaging kids in the democratic process early.”
On gun control, Obama said he favored a ban on assault weapons. On immigration, he said those who enter the United States illegally to seek a better life should “have a chance to earn their citizenship over time.”
In response to a California teenager with many gay friends, he stated: “I’ve got a lot of gay friends, too… Ultimately, it’s the right thing to do, and the fair thing to do, to allow gay couples to marry.”
He also confessed to going through heartbreak.
“That happened to me,” he replied to a 15-year-old who asked the president what lost love had taught him. “I think the main thing you learn is that, you know, life goes on.”
With no known video of Romney discussing heartbreak, the producers did what they could with file footage of the candidate at such un-childlike events as the National Rifle Association convention, where he defended gun ownership.
He was also seen behind a podium ticking off “the five things I’m going to do” to create middle-class jobs: “energy, education — the skills we need to succeed, trade, balancing our budget and championing small business.”
“We want to be fair, but it’s not equal,” Ellerbee told AFP. “We have no news clip of Romney answering a very kid-like question.”
“Kids Pick the President” premiered a day before Obama, who has two young daughters, and Romney, with five grown children and 18 grandchildren, face off in the second of three prime-time debates ahead of the November 6 election.