What’s more, voter registration in the Hispanic community is not keeping up with the population boom. Registration has dropped off 5 percentage points since 2008, and the drop-off is even more pronounced in swing states like New Mexico, Nevada, and Florida. Hispanic turnout in 2012 may not match 2008, when Obama ran an unprecedented grassroots campaign in size and scope. He made history, too. “They had lightning in a bottle last time, and they’re not going to have it this time,’’ said Republican pollster Ed Goeas.
The NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Telemundo poll found only 68 percent of Latino voters say they are highly interested in the upcoming election, compared to 81 percent of all voters.
Goeas sees an opportunity for Romney among Hispanic voters, particularly among men. A recent nationwide survey he conducted with Democratic pollster Celinda Lake found that 54 percent of Hispanic voters approved of Romney personally, compared to 42 percent who disapproved. “While Obama might win Hispanics across the board, there are certain subgroups that will be interested in the Romney campaign,’’ Goeas said.
No wonder Obama has launched a nationwide, bilingual program called GottaVote.org that the campaign describes as a "one-stop shop" for voting information. The initiative is a response to new laws passed in a number of states that require voters to present additional identification at the polls. Critics say the new laws will disproportionately affect minorities, who were crucial to Obama's 2008 victory.
“The evidence strongly suggests that President Obama is on track to receive roughly the same supermajority of the Hispanic vote that he did in 2008," said William Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “Less clear is whether Hispanic turnout will be as high as it was four years ago, or whether the administration’s failure to deliver on the promise of immigration reform will put a lower ceiling on the Hispanic vote this time."
The president has also drawn criticism from Hispanic activists for a record-setting number of deportations. "He has a lot of ground to make up with Hispanics, so he needs to be advertising in Spanish early," said Noe Garcia, a Hispanic Republican consultant who worked for President George W. Bush and the national party. "He's lost a lot of credibility in the community."
Bottom line: The battle for the Hispanic vote is far from over. But whether Romney intends to truly compete remains to be seen.