Kal Penn’s resumé might read something like this: movie star, White House aide and now President Barack Obama’s ambassador to young voters.
On Wednesday, it was that last role that brought the 35-year-old actor to Charlotte. He lunched with young Obama volunteers, did a meet-and-greet during happy hour at Dandelion Market and touted, at every turn, the president’s accomplishments on behalf of the under-30 crowd.
“Their friends home from Iraq. The doubling of Pell grants (for students) Freeing up capital under the (Small Business Administration) for young entrepreneurs 3.1 million young Americans now covered under health care reform.”
Penn, star of stoner comedies (the “Harold & Kumar” movies) and well-reviewed drama (“The Namesake”), also had an answer for those young people who can’t find jobs more than three years after Obama took office.
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“Look, the president inherited a really tough economic situation,” he told the Observer during an interview at the Obama campaign’s uptown headquarters. “He saved us from the brink of a second Great Depression. The choice – politically – is do we want a Gov. (Mitt) Romney who’s going to sort of rehash what President Bush (did)? . . . Or do we want to continue the trend of economic recovery?”
Short term, Penn added, the White House is trying to help young job-seekers with a summer jobs bank. And long term, he said, “job growth is when the president meets with Apple, for example, and says, ‘How do we get you to produce iPods and iPads in the United States?’ ”
Wednesday’s stop in Charlotte was part of a swing through North Carolina – a state Obama carried in 2008 in part because he picked up 72 percent of the votes cast by people 18-29 years old.
Polls suggest the president may have a hard time matching that level of support and enthusiasm in 2012, with North Carolina again an election-year battleground.
But Penn wasn’t buying that. He pointed to the Tuesday opening of an Obama campaign office in Raleigh, where the turnout was standing-room-only and the parking lot was packed.
“There’s no enthusiasm gap here,” said Penn, crediting Obama – not the movie star in town – for the excitement.
Penn, an Indian-American from New Jersey whose given name is Kalpen Suresh Modi, is by now a veteran of dealing with young people and their issues. In the Obama White House, he did outreach with them and with the Asian-American community.
If Obama is re-elected, he said he’d welcome another chance to work in the administration. But run for office himself? Not interested, he said.
He still calls making movies his “first love.” And the one-time TV actor (“House” and “24”) is working on an animated “Harold & Kumar” series that he hopes will run on Comedy Central.
And as one of the national co-chairs of the Obama re-election campaign, Penn plans to be back in Charlotte during the Democratic National Convention.
But don’t look for him hanging with other celebrities at convention week receptions.
He’ll likely be working, encouraging young people to register to vote and then get to the polls in November.
“I’m not a big partier,” he said. “I went to the convention in Denver in ’08, but I worked the floor as a whip for Virginia. I showed up in the morning and left late at night. And then went straight to bed.”