Latino voters take center stage in both presidential campaigns
By Karen Tumulty, Published: April 17 – Washington Post/Politics
With the GOP presidential nomination no longer in doubt, President Obama and Mitt Romney this week are urgently turning their focus to Hispanic voters — a group whose alienation from Republicans threatens GOP prospects for winning the White House and has given the Obama campaign an early opportunity to lock in the support of a key constituency.
Sensing a chance to exploit the disconnect, the Obama reelection campaign is accelerating its efforts to reignite the intensity that brought out Latino voters in record numbers four years ago.
The Republican nominee-to-be and his party are looking to repair relations by dispatching organizers to critical states and by reminding Hispanics that the administration has not lived up to its promises on immigration reform.
At a private fundraiser Sunday night in Palm Beach, Fla., Romney told supporters that “we have to get Hispanic voters to vote for our party” and warned that a big win of that group by Obama “spells doom for us.”
His comments were overheard and reported by journalists for NBC News and the Wall Street Journal.
For the Obama team, the new push begins Wednesday, when the campaign announces its first round of Spanish-language television and radio ads. The initial spots — to be aired in Colorado, Nevada and Florida — will feature Latino Obama volunteers promoting the president’s education policies.
In one, Daniella Urbina, a Harvard University graduate raised by her mother and grandmother, says: “Financial aid is very important to the Latino community. I was the first in the family that was going to go to college. I think President Obama understands us.”
In coming weeks, Obama’s campaign will intensify its Latino phone-banking operation and send canvassers door to door to find even relatively small pockets of Hispanic voters in states such as New Hampshire.
Its Web site features a Spanish-language calculator on which voters can compare their tax rate with Romney’s. And the president has become a regular presence on Spanish-language media, having done 15 interviews since his inauguration on the Univision Network alone.
The stakes for both sides are heightened by the math and the map. Hispanics are the nation’s largest and fastest-growing ethnic minority, accounting for more than 16 percent of the population. They also make up crucial voting blocs in two-thirds of the swing states where the presidential election is likely to be decided.
The urgency is being felt most intensely in the battleground states.“The key to this thing is what percentage of Hispanic votes we get in Florida or Virginia or Ohio or Colorado or Nevada or New Mexico,” said Al Cardenas, the former Florida GOP chairman who is advising the Romney campaign on how to reach out to Hispanics. “He needs to get close to 40 percent in six states.”
On Monday, the Republican National Committee announced that it has appointed state directors to drum up Hispanic support in Florida, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Virginia and North Carolina.
“In order to win their hearts and minds and votes, we’re going to have to share our own vision for a better tomorrow,” Cardenas said, “and we’re going to have to do it in a way where the community feels they are part of us.”