Why did Obama hit Romney on immigration in Virginia?
Obama’s chances of winning Virginia again could hinge on Latino turnout.
President Obama briefly departed from his usual stump speech in Virginia Beach, Va. on Friday to throw in an attack line against his GOP rival Mitt Romney on immigration.
“Mitt Romney says that undocumented workers in this country should self-deport,” said the president. “My belief is that we are a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants and I want to make sure that we get comprehensive immigration reform that gives young people who have been raised here a chance to live out their own American Dream.”
Obama’s didn’t bring up the topic of immigration during his bus tour through the Rust Belt state of Ohio last week. So why did he dredge it up in Virginia, a swing state that is shaping up to be just as competitive as Ohio?
It’s no secret that Obama’s political barbs on immigration are meant to be aimed at Latino voters. And Virginia’s Latino population has boomed over the last decade. The burgeoning number of Latino voters in Virginia four years ago helped Obama become the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry the state since 1964. And Obama will need their support again to win the state.
Over the last ten years, the Latino population in Virginia almost doubled and Latinos now make up 8 percent of the state’s overall population, according to Census data. Two years ago there were 183,000 eligible Latino voters in the state and many of them have personally dealt with the nation’s immigration system; 36 percent are naturalized citizens, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, with many immigrants coming from El Salvador and Mexico.
And the immigration debate has been seen on the ground in Virginia. In 2010, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli ruled that state police can check the immigration status of individuals they stop, similar to the central provision of the Arizona law. That move provoked the anger of immigrant activists in the state.
Sure, 183,000 voters doesn’t seem like a lot in a state where over 3.6 million people voted in the last presidential election. But Obama only won the state by 234,000 votes four years ago and this year’s race in Virginia could be even closer. That means that even a small voter groups could decide the election and the pool of eligible Latino voters is likely even greater this year.
While Virginia Latinos voted 65-34 percent in favor of Obama four years ago, both the Romney campaign and the Obama campaign are fighting tooth and nail for their votes this time around.
Spanish-language ad spending has been virtually non-existent there, but both campaigns (and the Republican National Committee) have staff and volunteers on the ground dedicated to turning out Latino voters. Like in other areas of the country, Latino voters tend to lean Democrat in Virginia, but a June poll conducted by Latino Decisions showed support for Obama against Romney somewhat depressed, he’s leading the Republican 59-28 percent.
Before 2008, Virginia was known as a solidly red state but the demographic changes over the last decade, including rapid Latino growth, have helped turn it into a tossup. With Obama’s support from non-Latino whites expected to decline across the board, it will be critical for the president to get minorities, including Latinos, to show up to the polls. Romney, on the other hand, will need to eat away at Obama’s Latino support or boost turnout from non-Latino whites in order to win back the state.
(Photo: Flickr, Barack Obama)