President Obama's mission in New Orleans

New Orleans, La. -- In the middle of a heated re-election campaign, Air Force One brought President Barack Obama to New Orleans Wednesday.

The calling card: The National Urban League Conference.  The organization is headed by former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial.

"The fact that the president has chosen the National Urban League conference and New Orleans to deliver an important speech I think is special," Morial said of Mr. Obama's speech Wednesday night before the conference.

Hours before the president's plane arrived, protesters who feel the health care reforms will force religious institutions to pay for birth control rallied outside the Convention Center.

But clearly the Urban League Conference is friendly turf for the president.

"He's here to mobilize the best and the brightest in the African American community so that they'll go back to their communities and do the hard work to convince voters to get out there and vote for him in November," said UNO political scientist Ed Chervenak.

Polls show the race between the president and the GOP's presumptive nominee Mitt Romney is very close.

"There seems to be a lack of enthusiasm among African Americans this time around," Chervenak said relating to Obama's support.

One expected announcement may change that.  The White House says the president is creating a new office to bolster education of African-American students.  The office will coordinate the work of communities and federal agencies to ensure that African-American youngsters are better prepared for high school, college and career.

Obama will announce the decision before the National Urban League. Aides say his executive order, to be signed Thursday, will set a goal of producing "a more effective continuum" of programs for African-American students.

Scott Sewell is chair for Romney's Louisiana campaign. He said the president has a lot of answer for given the state of the economy.

"Why people's food costs are as high as they are, why your utility costs are going up, why gasoline costs so much, mostly it's bad environmental policy from this administration," Sewell said.

"The probability of President Obama winning Louisiana is a real long shot," Chervenak said.

Chervenak and GOP officials agree that the state is solidly in the "red" column and will go for Romney in November.

"[The president] is coming to New Orleans because it's a Democratic stronghold but it's still ensconced in a Republican state," Chervenak said.

"He hasn't really come out with anything other than the same administration policies from the first day and they just haven't worked," said Sewell.

President Obama is not the only presidential candidate raising money in Louisiana.  Recently Governor Mitt Romney attended a high end fundraiser in Baton Rouge.

"I think this whole process of both candidates having to raise as much as they are is not healthy for the process," added Sewell.

The Urban League attracts presidential contenders from both parties. In 2004, George Bush and John Kerry attended.

Morial said his organization is focused on ensuring that no one's right to cast a vote is compromised.

''Saying to people you need to understand what the laws are in your state," Morial said.

He said the president's speech helped to drive up attendance at the conference dramatically.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.