Recent polls show Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney closing the gap with rival President Obama. The November presidential election could be decided by a handful of states, some of which – Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico for instance – could swing with the Hispanic vote, considered a slam-dunk for the incumbent.
Hispanics gave Obama two-thirds of their vote in 2008 and in a recent NBC/WSJ polls favored the president over Romney by a whopping 47 points.
However, if team Romney smartens up, the GOP hopeful could siphon off enough of the Latino vote to give him the win. Like everything else these days, it all depends on jobs.
Americans rate jobs their number one priority, and Latinos are no exception. For Hispanics, education comes next. Immigration – the issue of contention between Romney and Latinos -- ranks only sixth, after education, health care, taxes and the federal budget deficit.
Romney can chip away at Obama’s formidable Hispanic following by focusing on jobs. He can remind voters that instead of drilling down on programs to boost employment early in his term, the president ensnared himself – and the country—in the messy and divisive fight over health care, wasting precious time and gumming up the recovery.
As important, business managers across the country complain that the White House has enacted one speed bump after another which has curtailed America's economic expansion.
Decisions like the president's move to reject the Keystone Pipeline may make headlines, but the damage done to businesses by the emboldened EPA, the changes in labor rules, a hyperactive Justice Department, the uncertainty created by the health care free-for-all, the slew of new regulations and agencies governing credit and lending – have all slowed hiring.
President Obama has vowed to clear some of the regulatory thicket, but in this sphere he thinks small. His agency heads, unhappily, set the bar higher with each passing day.
These issues resonate with the Hispanic community, which is generating new small businesses at twice the nation’s rate overall and today accounts for roughly 3 million small firms.
They also resonate with Latinos out of work. The nation overall is still suffering intolerably high unemployment nearly three years after the recession officially ended – a modern-day record. Hispanic joblessness at 10.3% is painfully above the nation’s average of 8.2%. For young Hispanics – aged 16-19 – some 27% are without jobs.
Here’s another reason that Hispanics should reconsider their support for the president; according to the Department of Labor, Latinos are more likely to work in the private sector and less likely than blacks or white Americans to be employed by the government. Where has Mr. Obama funneled most of the stimulus money? To public employees.
Romney will not likely win over a majority of Hispanics, but he has a shot at narrowing the gap.However, his campaign needs to get smarter – much smarter, critics say – about courting Latinos. There is still no Spanish language Romney website and no Spanish-speaking spokesperson. Also, he has done little to court the Hispanic media. All of this has to change – overnight. Romney must channel his inner Ricky Martin and woo Latino voters.
Romney can begin by attacking President Obama for taking Hispanics for granted, promising much but delivering nothing.
In 2008, candidate Obama vowed to tackle immigration reform in his first year in office – but never even tried to engage the country in this important debate. For his first two years in office Mr. Obama had a solid Democrat majority in Congress; he did not spend that clout on Hispanics.
Instead, he has increased deportations and recently gave his approval (before backing down) to a controversial ruling that Catholic institutions would have to provide medical insurance covering services forbidden by the church. This offended many of the roughly two-thirds of Hispanics who identify themselves as Catholic.
As for education reform – deservedly the second most important issue for Latinos – Mr. Obama started strong but has consistently caved before pressure from the teachers' unions.
That President Obama has slighted the Hispanic community has not gone unnoticed.
Mr. Obama’s approval rating has slipped – by 9 percentage points in 2011 compared to 2010 these are year-end figures; for young people, the drop was twenty points from the year before. There is opportunity for the Romney camp.
For sure, Romney hurt himself during primary season with tough rhetoric about immigration, carving out harsh positions on border control, and opposing the popular Dream Act championed by President Obama.
More recently Kris Kobach, the author of those positions, has been given a less prominent position in the GOP campaign.
Meanwhile, Romney is campaigning with Marco Rubio, a prominent Hispanic of Cuban descent, who has a more nuanced and generous approach to the immigration issue.
Without jeopardizing his conservative bona fides, Romney can maintain a firm stance on border security while espousing, for instance, Rubio’s version of the DREAM Act. This alternative proposal, which Rubio expects to flesh out in coming weeks, would grant young illegal immigrants a visa-based approach to staying in the U.S. if they serve in the military or go to college and provide Romney some wiggle room.
It is worth noting that Latinos themselves are not unified on how to enforce immigration laws. As an example, in a survey last month by Quinnipiac, year, 47% of Hispanics approved of the Arizona law being reviewed by the Supreme Court, while 49% disapproved – a surprisingly close outcome. Surveys have shown an increasing number of Hispanics viewing illegal immigration as a negative for their community.
The is no doubt that the 2012 presidential election will be a tight race.
Given the president’s dismal record on jobs, Romney should view every group in play, including Hispanics.
As for Hispanics, they should get busy reviewing President Obama’s broken promises.