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Obama campaign turns to home-grown star Josh Hartnett to rally students

The actor has been involved in Democratic politics since he met Sen. Paul Wellstone as a high school kid at Minneapolis South.

Josh Hartnett

The Obama campaign mixed some home-grown star power with basic organizing at a Saturday event at the University of Minnesota.

The star was 33-year-old actor Josh Hartnett, who has been involved in Democratic politics since he was a high school kid at Minneapolis South and met the late Sen. Paul Wellstone.

Despite all of his celebrity experience dealing with the public, Hartnett told about 300 people — mostly students from metro area colleges — that he was “anxious’’ speaking to them.

“I haven’t been in front of an audience like this in eight years,” Hartnett said, explaining that during the last election he was working in London. “It makes me feel anxious. … But it’s so important for all of us to be involved. This election may be a bit more difficult than some of us expect at this time. There’s going to be a lot of money on the right re-interpreting what the president has accomplished. He’s done a terrific job.”

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After his talk, which touted the importance of student involvement, Hartnett was asked how it was possible for a star to be nervous at a gathering such as Saturday’s.

“When I’m doing this, I’m not playing a character,” he said. “That’s why I decided to speak off the cuff.  I was talking about earnest beliefs. I didn’t think it would be right to do that by reading off cards.”

This event, billed as a student “summit,” wasn’t meant to be a rally. Rather, it was to serve as a way to develop team leaders on area campuses before students break for the summer.

There were, though, rallying moments.

But mostly this was pumping students full of thoughts about the accomplishments of the administration — the sorts of things they can use as talking points when they return to their respective campuses.

Doubling of Pell grants. Ending the war in Iraq.  Ending “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” The health insurance reform that allows students to stay on their parents’ health insurance programs. Charts showing recent improvements in the economy.

And charts showing the importance of inspiring young voters to get to the polls.

In the 2008 elections, 20 percent of those voting were younger than 28. The president — and other Democrats down the ticket — prevailed. In 2010, just 10 percent of those voting were young, with devastating results for Democrats.

“There’s supposed to be this lack of interest among young voters,” said Jeff Blodgett, the Obama campaign director for Minnesota. “But I haven’t seen it.”

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Elizabeth Doyle, 26, isn’t so sure. She door-knocked for Obama four years ago — pushing her infant from door to door in Woodbury. She’ll be back at it for this election with her 4-year-old child.

“There have been disappointments,” she said. “There are times when I wish he would have fought harder for some things. But there’s too much at stake not to work hard again. Health care, public education — those are big picture things that matter so much.’’

She’s not sure that many of her peers, who were excited about Obama four years ago, will be that enthusiastic now.

“I do sense that a lot of people don’t see the big picture,” she said. “They get wrapped up in their own little world, their own small issues.”