Why Obama is aggressively pursuing Latino votes
Obama needs a strong turnout from Latinos to win reelection.
The Obama campaign launched an aggressive campaign Wednesday to retain the support of Latino voters, who could help determine whether the president wins a second term in office.
The campaign rolled out Spanish-language radio and television advertisements in three Latino-heavy swing states — Colorado, Florida, and Nevada — that touch on the economy and education. It also announced the launch of its “Latinos for Obama” organizing group with over 100 “house parties” across the country designed to attract new grassroots volunteers and supporters. Comedian George Lopez has even been enlisted to rally the troops on a national conference call for volunteers.
“It’s no secret Latinos will be a deciding factor in this election,” Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said on a conference call with reporters.
On the surface, one might ask why the Obama campaign is putting such an intense effort behind appealing to Latino voters.
The president is handily beating the likely Republican nominee Mitt Romney, leading by 42-points in a January Univision/ABC News/Latino Decisions poll. A Pew Research Center poll with a smaller sample size of Latinos, released Tuesday, showed similar results, with Obama leading Romney 67-27 percent among Latino registered voters. That’s a slightly larger margin by which Obama defeated Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008, when he won Latinos 67-31 percent.
And the Republican Party suffers from a very negative image among Latinos, 72 percent of Latino registered voters believe the party doesn’t care too much about Latinos or is outwardly hostile to them, according to the Univision poll.
Obama’s supporters attacked Romney’s positions on immigration, a sensitive issue for many Latinos, such as his opposition to the DREAM Act and his support for the controversial “self-deportation” model of immigration enforcement.
Messina called Romney the GOP candidate with the “most extreme position on immigration reform in modern history.”
“They may try to paint whatever picture they want, but they are going to have a very tough time talking about immigration,” said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.)
But Obama also has his work cut out for him when it comes to rekindling the same amount of enthusiasm he enjoyed in 2008 and increasing turnout. Latinos still suffer disproportionately the effects of the recession. Latino unemployment remains north of 10 percent, while the general rate sits at 8.2 percent. Almost 6.1 million Latino children were living in poverty in 2010, more than any other ethnic group.
And though immigration reform has hit a roadblock in large part because of Republican opposition, many Latinos have also pinned blame on Obama for the lack of progress.
Immigrant rights groups and Latinos have also expressed dissatisfaction with the Obama administration’s deportation policies, which have resulted in a doubling of the annual average number of undocumented immigrants being sent out of the country. Fifty-nine percent of Latinos say they disapproved of Obama’s deportation strategy in a December Pew survey.
Meanwhile, Republicans are looking to exploit these potential points of weakness with Latino voters. The Republican National Committee put one outreach coordinator each into Nevada, Colordo, New Mexico, Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina this week, and the party plans to attack Obama on his record.
“Does President Obama think Hispanics suffer from amnesia?” Florida Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R) said in a statement. “Not even the most eloquent rhetoric in the world, can hide the fact that this has been a failed Presidency with nothing but empty promises.”
While attracting Latino votes will be a tough task for Republicans, the challenge for Obama will be boosting turnout among Latino voters in key swing states in the fall.
Latinos made up nine percent of the electorate in 2008, and rocketed up five percentage points in Colorado and Nevada from 2004, where Obama is airing his ads. Non-white voters, including Latinos, are a key part of the presidents base and experts agree that Obama will need a strong turnout from those voters to win, since he’s performing worse with white voters than he four years ago.
The Obama campaign predicted it would be able to overcome any challenge from Republicans due to its vast resources and experience organizing and messaging to Latino voters. Campaign officials on the call touted elements of the president’s record, such as expanding access to Pell Grants and passing the health reform law as examples where they could draw “contrasts” between Obama and the GOP.
“I feel very sorry for this organizers on the ground who take those jobs,” Messina said of the GOP outreach coordinators, claiming they will need to defend the party’s positions on the economy and immigration, which Latinos rate poorly.
“Polls will go up and polls will go down, but what matters is on-the-ground organizing,” he said.
In other words, the Obama campaign is attempting to follow a long held adage: the Latino vote has to be earned.
(Photo: Screenshot, YouTube)