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With graduation speeches, Obama, Romney target 'must win' audiences

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Richard Drew/AP

(Read caption) President Obama delivers the commencement address to graduates at all-female Barnard College, on the campus of Columbia University, in New York, Monday, May 14.

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It's commencement season – and the time-honored tradition of politicians using graduation speeches as a platform for their messages is in full swing.

On Monday, it was President Obama's turn, as he spoke to the women of Barnard College in New York.

"Don't just get involved," he told the Barnard audience. "Fight for your seat at the table. Better yet, fight for a seat at the head of the table."

His words were, for the most part, the kinds of platitudes to be expected at a commencement (in addition to urging grads to be activists, he also told them to "persevere" and "never underestimate the power of your example"). But the location was particularly notable – just as it was for Mitt Romney's commencement address two days earlier.

Mr. Obama, whose campaign has been targeting women voters this election year, zeroed in on Barnard – a top women's college that has been affiliated with Columbia University since 1900 – back in February. He requested the speaking slot back then, and the Barnard president replaced New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson, who had originally been designated the speaker.

It's a natural fit for Obama. It helps reach women and young people – both key parts of the electorate he wants to mobilize. Moreover, Obama's half-sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, graduated from Barnard, and Obama graduated from Columbia.

Mr. Romney's choice of commencement venue was also illuminating – and perhaps not quite so comfortable for the GOP presidential candidate.

On Saturday, he spoke at Liberty University, the Evangelical college founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell.

For a candidate who has been struggling to resonate with evangelicals – though his approval ratings among that group are finally rising – it seemed like a very targeted appeal.

And coming shortly after Obama's headline-making support for gay marriage, Romney earned some of his loudest applause for stating his position on the issue:

"As fundamental as these principles are, they may become topics of democratic debate. So it is today with the enduring institution of marriage. Marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman."

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