EDITOR'S NOTE: CNN has sent dozens of reporters, producers, contributors and correspondents to the key battleground states to cover the final days of the 2012 election. Here is a report from John Avlon, CNN contributor and senior political columnist for Newsweek and The Daily Beast. It's his take on a student town hall held in Lexington, Virginia.
(CNN) - The Battleground State Bus Tour rolled into Lexington, Virginia, and sat down with twenty college students at Washington & Lee University to talk about the election.
The economy is still the number one issue for these students, but surprisingly it isn't just about finding a job after graduation. The vast majority of students in this center-right group cared most about the generational theft of the deficit and the debt.
"My opinion is the older folks didn't do their job. They didn't manage the economy," said Josh Laguerre. "They just spent, spent, spent. They didn't plan for us and now we have to clean up the mess that they've made."
Obama has lost ground with these students, including former supporters who are now undecided or leaning towards Romney.
"I agree with the president on social issues. I really do, and I think a lot of us are free-thinking in that way. But it's kind of gotten to the point where it's like triage. It's, like, okay, the economy's most important to me," said Caitlin Tyree. "In 2008 I supported the president. I even worked for grassroots organizations and I was all about him. In this election it's kind of just been like a bad break up between me and the president."
But while Mitt Romney had the decided edge among students in this conservative community – including one Vegan student who said the environment was her most important issue – there remain real questions about the authenticity of his recent reversion to Moderate Mitt after campaigning as a "severe conservative" for the past two years.
During the primaries, Romney "was a little bit more on the far right and a lot of us didn't really feel comfortable with that," said JJ Feinauer, who is still undecided. "His recent shift to the center I think has healed some of those wounds, but it's also a little bit more bittersweet." But an additional concern is about how a President Romney would deal with a right wing dominated Congress. "If he becomes the president it's just going to be unleashing the beast on a lot of the things during the primary that came out," continued Feinaiuer. "That make a lot of us very nervous about a shift in the direction in the country that we don't really want."
This group of students has little love for the policies of the past Bush administration, even as they feel that President Obama hasn't brought the change they'd hoped for. Interestingly, many of the students agreed that Republican obstructionism in Congress was responsible for the gridlock in Washington and these young deficit hawks felt that raising a portion of deficit reduction from revenue was a necessary and acceptable tradeoff for a bipartisan deficit deal in which they agreed everything needed to be on the table. And when it came to taxes, even some Romney supporters agreed that his tax plan didn't add up.
Talking with these engaged, informed students was refreshing and a rebuke to the kind of cynical political consultants who believe policy isn't important in presidential campaigns. These students have done their homework and they care passionately about the future of our country. And that's good news for whichever candidate wins this election.