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Obama Says He Expects Post-Election Bipartisanship

Oct. 14 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama said he expects the period after the November elections will open more opportunities for cooperation between Republicans and Democrats on issues including the deficit, education and energy policy.

Obama, answering questions from an audience mostly made up of college-age voters at a town hall in Washington, vowed he would try to reach beyond the partisan fights that marked the debate over his proposals during the first half of his term.

“My hope is, is that as we look forward, let’s say on education or on energy, some of the things that we haven’t yet finished, that we’re going to have a greater spirit of cooperation after this next election,” he said

Today’s televised town hall, sponsored by Viacom Inc. cable channels BET, MTV, and CMT, follows recent political appeals Obama made to young voters at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and universities in Wisconsin and Maryland.

It comes less than three weeks before elections in which Republicans may overturn the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives and shrink the Democratic edge in the Senate.

The president also took questions about his economic policies, education, immigration, Internet harassment, and the ban against openly gay men and women serving in the military.

Obama said the U.S. is facing “a critical time where we have to solve big problems.” While promising to reach out to Republicans after the election, he criticized the opposing party for throwing up roadblocks to cooperation on issues, particularly health care.

Political Consequences

“Some folks made a decision that it would be useful for me to suffer this political defeat,” Obama said in response to a question from a woman who identified herself as a Republican. “Now that’s all past history.”

Obama defended his economic policies to a questioner who asked why he should continue to support the administration when the recovery has been so slow.

Obama said most of the 8 million jobs lost during the recession that started in December 2007 “were lost before my economic policies were put into place.” The economic stimulus he pushed through Congress last year “worked in terms of helping to cushion the fall,” Obama said. “Three million folks are working now that would not otherwise be working.”

The president vowed to keep pressing the Senate to pass legislation that would repeal a law keeping in place the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on gays in the military.

Ending ‘Don’t Ask’

“Anybody should be able to serve and they should not have to lie about who they are in order to serve,” Obama said. “This policy will end. It will end on my watch.”

A federal judge in California ordered the military on Oct. 12 to “immediately suspend and discontinue any investigation, or discharge, separation or other proceeding” under the policy against anyone in its command. The Justice Department asked the judge to delay her injunction so the Pentagon can continue its review of the statute.

In response to another question, Obama said he doesn’t think homosexuality is a choice.

“People are born with a certain makeup and we’re all children of God,” he said. “We don’t make determinations about who we love.”

Obama has been courting young voters to help his party’s candidates beat back the challenge from Republicans.

Shifting Priorities

Democrats can’t count on the high turnout among 18- to 24-year-olds who helped propel Obama to victory two years ago, according to Curtis Gans, a professor at American University in Washington who studies U.S. voting patterns.

“They voted in 2008 because of Iraq and Afghanistan, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and hope for a different type of politics,” he said. For this election, “they are disillusioned, and I don’t think via MTV or any other mechanism, the president will be able to create the type of fear that will mobilize young people to vote.”

Gans said he expects “a very low youth turnout,” likely less than in the 2006 midterms when Census Bureau data showed 19.9 percent of registered 18- to 24-year-olds voted. By comparison, 44.3 percent of registered 18- to 24-years-olds voted in 2008.

Low Interest

Adding to the challenge for Obama, voters under 30 say they are less interested in this year’s election, and their support for Obama has declined, according to a Pew Research Center poll of 2,816 registered voters conducted Aug. 25 to Sept. 6.

Obama’s approval rating among young voters has fallen to 58 percent, down from 71 percent in February 2009, the Pew poll found. His approval rating among all voters was 46 percent.

The questions focused mainly on policy and the president struck few personal notes.

One exception was when Obama shared the kind of advice he and first lady Michelle Obama give their daughters. Asked about the Internet harassment, Obama said he tries to teach his children to consider how their actions affect others.

On the New Jersey college student who committed suicide after his roommate posted private pictures on line, Obama said “obviously, our heart breaks when we read about what happened at Rutgers.

“When we read about some of these other young people who are doing nothing to deserve the kind of, you know, harassment and bullying that just completely gets out of hand,” he said.

Still, he said there were limits to what the government could do. “The law is a powerful thing, but the law doesn’t always change what’s in people’s hearts,” he said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Traci McMillan in Washington at tmcmillan1@bloomberg.net; Hans Nichols in Washington at hnichols2@bloomberg.net;

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva@bloomberg.net

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