Obama: Republicans wrecking their chance to win over Latinos
President Obama took some time to sit down with a few members of the Hispanic media today to discuss the importance of the Latino vote in 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama says he is confident in his ability to win over Latino voters before next year’s elections, thanks to some added help from his Republican opponents.
During a roundtable with Hispanic media in the White House’s Roosevelt Room Wednesday, Obama outlined his strategy for winning over a Latino electorate that remains supportive of him, but less enthusiastically so than in 2008. The president said he’ll contrast his record with those of the Republican candidates on hot-button issues ranging from immigration, to the economy and healthcare.
Many political observers believe that drawing a sharp contrast with Republicans will require Obama to go negative, but the president said he won’t have to use too harsh a tone to accomplish that.
“I don’t think it requires us to go negative in the sense of us running a bunch of ads that are false, or character assassinations,” Obama told Univision News. “It will be based on facts … We may just run clips of the Republican debates verbatim. We won’t even comment on them, we’ll just run those in a loop on Univision and Telemundo, and people can make up their own minds.”
That’s one of the strongest rebukes thus far from Obama against Republicans when it comes to their desire to chip away at his base of Latino support. And it underscores the president’s eagerness to go toe-to-toe with his GOP opponents although the beginning of the general election campaign is still months away.
Obama and Democrats have long said Republican rhetoric against illegal immigration will sink their chances of winning over Latinos. During recent debates, GOP candidates Rick Perry and Mitt Romney have angrily sparred over the issue. And Herman Cain suggested during a speech that an electrified fence should be built between the U.S. and Mexico to keep out undocumented immigrants.
On the contrary, Obama repeatedly said during the 45-minute conversation that he supports comprehensive immigration reform – a top issue for Latino voters. He also plugged his stalled jobs plan and touted his administration’s efforts to reduce the cost of student loans; both of which he says would benefit U.S. Latinos.
“That’s not to say the Latino community is going to think my administration is perfect. But I think they know where my heart is and they know the kind of America that I want to see for all of our children,” he said. “The values and the vision I have is going to match up much more closely with where the Latino community wants to see the country going.”
But Republicans have consistently cited Latinos’ frustration over their unemployment rate, now at 11.4 percent, as evidence that they might not turn out for the president like they did three years ago, when Obama won over two-thirds of the Latino vote.
In addition, Latino enthusiasm for Obama is down from 2008, when over 67 percent voted for him. According to a Univision News/Latino Decisions poll, only 47 percent of registered Latino voters say they are very enthusiastic about voting in 2012 and 48 percent of Latinos say they were more excited about voting in 2008 than this year — 13 percentage points higher than the national sample — and 53 percent say they are less excited about Obama than they were three years ago. Forty-four percent of Latino Democrats, a plurality, share that sentiment.
Obama said that considering the state of the economy, those numbers aren’t surprising.
“I think that there is no way to duplicate the atmosphere in 2008, because we’ve gone through now three years of very difficult economic times and nobody’s been more impacted by that than the Latino community. So understandably, there are going to be frustrations,” he said. “People will be saying to themselves, ‘I’ve been out of work for a year-and-a-half, it’s hard to get excited about any election, if you’re spending all your time thinking about how you’re going to pay the rent or buy groceries.’”
Many of Obama’s Latino detractors say he shares blame for the lack of progress on immigration. But Obama assured those critics that despite the lack of progress he’s on the right side of the issue, and that’s he’s not going to shy away from the issue.
“I will make this a prominent part of my campaign. I’ll talk about it extensively,” he said.
Addressing those frustrations, Obama encouraged Latino voters to show up at the polls next year, saying that doing so could change the mood in Washington and improve the chances of their priorities, such as immigration reform, getting passed into law.
“Part of what we want is to take this to the American people so I have a clearer mandate in the second term to get this done,” he said. “If you have a strong Latino turnout in the election - and [in] a lot of states that are very important to the presidential election as well as control of Congress - and because of a strong Latino turnout, a clear message is sent that we need to get comprehensive immigration reform done, the political dynamic may be different going into the second term.”
In the meantime, Obama said his team at the White House is “exploring” the possibility of bringing up smaller immigration reform items, such as the DREAM Act, between now and the election. But he conceded that anything would have trouble passing through Congress.
“Whether this House of Representatives has any inclination to do anything other than try to pour more money into enforcement is not clear, but we’re exploring it.”
Expect Obama to also talk pointedly about Republican-backed immigration crackdown laws on the state level. The president cited the controversial Alabama immigration law (H.B. 56) as an example of overreach, saying it was a “bad law” that “is not simply anti-immigrant, but I think it does not match our core values as a country.”
Obama suggested the recall of Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce (R), the architect of his state’s harsh immigration law (S.B. 1070), indicates that the GOP’s position is becoming untenable for the party.
“I think that the election last night gave some sense, hopefully, to some Republicans that taking extreme positions that are not responsive to people’s immediate needs right now may end up having consequences,” he said.