“President Obama’s first campaign was savvy to the growth of Hispanic voters in states that weren’t on the radar before, and the Romney campaign has also showed an understanding of that this cycle,” said Mario Lopez, president of the Hispanic Leadership Fund, a center-right advocacy group.
FEELING LIKE OUTSIDERS
Not far from the bright lights and colors of Epcot, Disney World’s international theme park, is a more sprawling and less sanitized Latin American community. Even the white, non-Hispanic politicians have campaign billboards in Spanish here. Latin music is all over FM radio; basic foodstuffs from the island, such as plantains, yucca, and mango, are abundant in grocery stores.
Lunching one afternoon at ’s Café with her family, 40-year-old Jessica Smith recalled the thrill she felt helping to elect the first African-American president in 2008. Many Hispanics with ties abroad felt a kinship with Obama, the son of a white woman from and a black man from Kenya who grew up in and Indonesia. “I thought he was going to change everything,” Smith said. “Obviously, that was not the case.”
“The state of the economy, it’s not getting any better,” said Eddie Burgos, a 37-year-old financial adviser, sitting at a table nearby. “I’m more optimistic about what Romney can do to turn things around. I don’t want more of the same.”
Smith, a Christian who homeschools her two children, was particularly disappointed when Obama came out in favor of gay marriage (although a recent Pew Research Center poll found that Hispanic support for same-sex marriage has risen substantially). Yet Smith is reluctant to commit to Romney. Why? “He and his party act like they want nothing to do with Hispanics and immigration,” she said.
That sentiment came up again and again in interviews with Orlando-area voters. Even though immigration matters do not directly affect Puerto Ricans, they understand what it feels like to be seen as outsiders. “Even though we are citizens, we feel for other people who aren’t, and some of them are our friends and like family to us,” Smith said.
Immigration is a more pressing concern for the Dominicans, Venezuelans, Colombians, and Mexicans who make up the rest of central Florida’s Hispanic community. They, too, lean Democratic but swing between both parties. “Had I not gotten lucky along the way, I would be one of those people who need the Dream Act, and Romney wants to veto it?” said Diana Fis, a 27-year-old law-school student from Venezuela who was undocumented until she married her American husband. “There are a lot of kids that want to give back to this country, this land of opportunity, and I’m an example of that. I can’t support someone who goes against my people.”