Obama, Romney focus on Hispanic voters

2012-09-20 19:09
Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney waves to supporters before he makes a speech in Miami. (J Pat Carter, AP)

Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney waves to supporters before he makes a speech in Miami. (J Pat Carter, AP)

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Washington - President Barack Obama looked on Thursday to lock down his lead with the country's growing number of Hispanic voters, attending the same forum where Republican challenger Mitt Romney a day earlier worked to overcome his damaging assertion that nearly half of Americans see themselves as victims entitled to government handouts.

Polls indicate Obama holds a 35-percentage-point lead over Romney among Hispanics, about the same margin of support he won among the nation's fastest growing ethnic minority in the 2008 presidential contest. This year, the number of Latinos eligible to vote is up by more than 2 million from their record turnout four years ago, according to the nonpartisan Pew Hispanic Center.

But the overall race between Obama and Romney is still a virtual tie, the latest polling says.

When he faces the forum sponsored by Spanish-language television network Univision, Obama will face difficult questions about the strength of the US economy and his unfulfilled pledge to overhaul the nation's tangled immigration system.

Obama can tout his administration's recent directive to protect immigrants who were brought to the US illegally as children, exempting from deportation and granting temporary work permits for those who apply. It does not provide a path to citizenship.

Obama's campaign has repeatedly brought up Romney's opposition to the so-called DREAM Act, which would offer a pathway to citizenship for young immigrants who came to the US illegally as children but have since attended school or served in the military. Obama supported the measure, which remains stalled in Congress.

About one-third of registered Latino voters say immigration is extremely important to them, but half say the economy is extremely important, according to the Pew Hispanic Centre.

In his appearance at the forum Wednesday, Romney declared, "My campaign is about the 100% in America," That was a clear attempt to blunt a message he delivered to a group of wealthy Florida donors last spring, which was revealed this week in a secretly recorded video of the event.

In that appearance, Romney said his job is not to worry about the 47% of Americans who don't pay income taxes and believe they are "victims" entitled to government help. With many Hispanics recently arrived in the United States and with little training for well-paying jobs, they tend to be among that 47%.

Election 7 weeks away

Romney declared on Wednesday that the Republican Party "is the natural home for Hispanic Americans because this is the party of opportunity and hope".

The focus on the growing Hispanic population comes with the election less than seven weeks away. While polls suggest the race is very close, Romney's missteps in recent weeks have prompted vocal concern from Republicans about the direction of his campaign.

Battling the perception that he's not working hard enough, Romney announced plans to launch a three-day bus tour across key battleground state Ohio next week. His campaign also released a new ad featuring Florida Senator Marco Rubio - a Republican rising star popular among traditional conservatives and Hispanic voters alike.

In an election to be decided in a handful of states with large Hispanic populations, Romney is fighting to erode Democrats' traditional advantage among the demographic. The president is not chosen by a nationwide popular vote but in state-by-state contests, making these states especially important.

Obama's campaign has more than doubled Romney's spending on Hispanic-focused television ads so far - approximately $6.4m from Obama to Romney's $2.9m.

Both Romney and Obama were campaigning on Thursday in Florida, where the Hispanic vote is strong.

Romney largely avoided detailing his immigration plans on Wednesday, despite repeated questions from Univision hosts.

He downplayed his support earlier in the year for policies that would promote "self-deportation" of illegal immigrants, while suggesting he might favour legal status for young immigrants who serve in the military or pursue higher education.

"I'm not in favour of a deportation - mass deportation - effort, rounding up 12 million people and kicking them out of the country," Romney said. "I believe people make their own choices as to whether they want to go home, and that's what I mean by self-deportation."

And Romney attacked Obama's immigration record.

"He never tried to fix the immigration system," Romney said. "I will actually reform the immigration system and make it work for the people of America."

- AP
Read more on:    barack obama  |  mitt romney  |  us  |  us election 2012
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