Romney had the opportunity to clarify his position on the Dream Act in the second debate with Obama. “The kids of those that came here illegally, those kids, I think, should have a pathway to become a permanent resident of the United States, and military service, for instance, is one way they would have that kind of pathway to become a permanent resident,” he said. He also stepped up criticism of Obama for breaking his campaign promise to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws.
But with polls showing Obama’s lead among Hispanic voters nationwide at 45 to 52 points, it appears that Romney’s earlier, strident calls for border security left a mark. What’s more, the hostility that some Hispanics perceive bleeds into a perception that Romney doesn’t care about the poor or middle class. Democratic attacks on his plan to perpetuate tax breaks for the wealthy and on his career as a venture capitalist have sunk in.
Rachel Figueroa, 19, waits tables at a restaurant owned by her grandmother to help pay her tuition at Valencia College. “I don’t believe Romney is going to work to help the middle class. He’s for the top 1 percent,” she said. Her impression was formed when Romney advised some Ohio college students in April to borrow from their parents. “I’m sure Romney can afford to do that, but my parents can’t,” Figueroa said.
Over 850,000 Puerto Ricans live in Florida, more than in any other state other than , with the largest concentration in central Florida. But while polls show they favor Obama (a FloridaInternational University survey pegged support for him at 61 percent), their votes are not guaranteed. In 2008, only 50 percent of eligible Hispanic voters cast ballots, compared with 65 percent of blacks and 66 percent of whites, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
Cross off David Quintero, 28, who says he won’t vote in 2012. It took him four long months to find a job as a waiter when he moved to Orlando from Virginia earlier this year. To Quintero, both Obama and Romney are mouthing empty words.
“The challenge is really getting out the Puerto Rican vote, especially these first-generation voters who are just getting established and finding a good job and trying to send their kids to school,” said Lynnette Acosta, a Puerto Rican information-technology manager in Orlando who is one of 35 national cochairs of the Obama campaign. After back-to-back media interviews one recent afternoon, Acosta was slated to do a conference call with a group of Puerto Ricans who live on the island—and can’t vote in the presidential election—but want to make phone calls to help get out the vote in Orlando. Her house is stocked with bottled water for the volunteers who pick up voter lists and campaign literature before canvassing neighborhoods.
The Obama campaign maintains that its vaunted ground game from 2008 is even more extensive in 2012 and features 103 offices around the state (24 in largely Hispanic neighborhoods). Romney has half as many offices.
But what Romney lacks in square feet, campaign volunteers such as Julio Quinones are making up for in sweat equity. The 22-year-old Valencia College student drives a 1996 Ford Explorer with no air conditioning, voters lists tucked underneath his windshield visor. He’s been harassed by Obama supporters and nearly bitten by a police dog while out canvassing. He wore a wide-brimmed hat to shield him from the sun as he walked door-to-door one afternoon.