Katherine Archuleta, recently hired as political director for the Obama re-election campaign, has an important, maybe critical task ahead: Hispanic voter outreach.
Arguably, the job of convincing Hispanic voters to again deliver for President Obama began with the president's Tuesday trip to Puerto Rico. It was the first such trip for an American president in a half-century.
In 2008, President Obama captured two-thirds of Hispanic votes cast. Two years later in the 2010 midterm elections, research by the Pew Hispanic Center found just 31.2 percent of eligible Hispanics cast ballots, less than either Black voters (44.0 percent) or White voters. (48.6percent).
Perhaps more disturbing for the president's team was that the study also found 51 percent of Hispanic voters said President Obama's policies had no effect on them. Frederico Pena disagrees. An early Obama-backer, Pena was Denver's first Hispanic mayor and was both Transportation and Energy Secretary for President Bill Clinton.
"[President Obama] has done more for Latinos than any other president," insists Pena. Then, Pena listed several items of note including the nomination of Justice Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, expansion of the Pell Grant program and healthcare reform.
Missing from the list is comprehensive immigration reform. Are Hispanics disappointed President Obama's team didn't deliver on that?
"Of course," says Pena.
But Pena says what many people, including Hispanics, don't understand is that while Democrats had control in 2009 and 2010 of the White House and both houses of Congress, "we never had 60 votes" in the Senate. That's the magic number of votes required to end debate on a piece of legislation to bring it to a vote. Pena says what did get done -- like the stimulus bill and healthcare -- matter deeply to Hispanics.
Also of concern for Hispanics is the Obama administration's stepped-up enforcement of existing immigration law. Statistics from the Department of Homeland Security show deportations on the rise. In fact, deportations were at record levels in 2009 and 2010, and half of all those deported last year (392,862) were classified "non-criminal immigration violators,' meaning they were simply discovered in the U.S. without authorization.
That deeply troubles many Hispanics including Chicago Congressman Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., an outspoken advocate for comprehensive immigration reform.
Gutierrez' communications director Douglas Rivlin says immigration reform is a "threshold issue" with Latinos. While Rivlin says Hispanics do care about jobs, healthcare and education it is has been noticed "[the Obama administration has] deported more Hispanics than George Bush".
This is the environment Katherine Archuleta must navigate to gather the Hispanic support needed to help President Obama win another four-year term.
An Obama campaign official says, "Katherine's diverse experience, from her work with non-profit organizations to her service in local and federal government, will be a great asset to the campaign in 2012."
"She will be the adult in the room," says Pena, "[Archuleta] doesn't get agitated or lose her cool."
Pena also says it is good the Obama Hispanic outreach effort, led by Archuleta, has begun early.
Steve Brown is an author, radio broadcaster and seminary professor at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida.