Obama, Romney Both Winners at Latino Conference

Republicans say Romney reintroduced himself to a crucial group of voters who overwhelmingly favor Obama.

Rebecca Kaplan
Add to Briefcase
Rebecca Kaplan
June 22, 2012, 11:35 p.m.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — A high-pro­file gath­er­ing of Latino pub­lic of­fi­cials turned out to be a win-win for Pres­id­ent Obama and Re­pub­lic­an Mitt Rom­ney, ac­cord­ing to in­ter­views with those who at­ten­ded. Demo­crats did not take Obama to task for wait­ing so long to stop de­port­a­tions of young il­leg­al im­mig­rants, and Re­pub­lic­ans ex­pressed re­lief at Rom­ney’s pres­ence and softer tone.

“I think people are ready to give both of them, really both of them some pass,” said Ron Gar­cia, a Re­pub­lic­an from South­ern Cali­for­nia and a mem­ber of the board of the Na­tion­al As­so­ci­ation of Latino Elec­ted and Ap­poin­ted Of­fi­cials. “There’s some time now to di­gest what the two can­did­ates have to of­fer.”

The fast-grow­ing Latino com­munity is a pivotal vot­ing bloc in sev­er­al battle­ground states, in­clud­ing Flor­ida, Col­or­ado, Nevada, Vir­gin­ia, North Car­o­lina and Ari­zona. Obama won two-thirds of the Latino vote in 2008 and is do­ing even bet­ter than that in some polls this year. Ana­lysts es­tim­ate that Rom­ney needs to win as much as 40 per­cent of the Latino vote to win the White House, a goal he is not reach­ing in sev­er­al states and one made harder by the tough im­mig­ra­tion rhet­or­ic he and oth­er Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ates em­ployed dur­ing the primar­ies.

Obama’s stand­ing with Lati­nos was re­flec­ted in the en­thu­si­ast­ic cheers and mul­tiple stand­ing ova­tions he re­ceived at NA­LEO. Bet­ter yet for him: the only sub­ject that came close to gen­er­at­ing as much fer­vor as his new policy on un­doc­u­mented youth was his men­tion of the Af­ford­able Care Act, a tox­ic sub­ject in much of the coun­try.

“I was very moved by it,” said Mary Rose Wil­cox, a Mari­copa County su­per­visor from Phoenix, Ar­iz. “I saw a tough­ness that I had not seen the last time he came to NA­LEO and I like that a lot, be­cause he has done so much — in terms of not only what he did with the ex­ec­ut­ive de­cision (on young im­mig­rants) but also with the eco­nomy.”

Her chief of staff, Terri Leija, said Obama’s speech mo­tiv­ated her to get out the vote.

While Obama had a nat­ur­al ad­vant­age at the con­fer­ence, Rom­ney be­ne­fit­ted from of­fer­ing his own ideas for im­mig­ra­tion re­form in front of a po­lite, if un­enthu­si­ast­ic audi­ence. His pro­pos­als, aimed in part at keep­ing fam­il­ies to­geth­er and highly edu­cated for­eign stu­dents in the United States, al­lowed him to move away from his much-scorned “self-de­port­a­tion” lan­guage and re­in­tro­duce him­self as a gen­er­al-elec­tion nom­in­ee sym­path­et­ic to the con­cerns of Latino voters.

“I was a little up­set with him over some of the harsh­ness with re­spect to im­mig­ra­tion in the past,  but what he said today was something I find ap­peal­ing,” said Juan Za­pata, a self-de­scribed mod­er­ate Re­pub­lic­an who chairs the NA­LEO Edu­ca­tion fund. “Soften­ing that rhet­or­ic with re­gards to im­mig­ra­tion will def­in­itely go a long way to­wards help­ing Re­pub­lic­ans.”

If Rom­ney’s speech was part of the learn­ing pro­cess of how to speak to His­pan­ic voters, “he’s on the right track,” said Long­wood, Fla., city coun­cil­man Bob Cor­tes, a Re­pub­lic­an.

Key to the sat­is­fac­tion of sev­er­al Re­pub­lic­ans at the con­fer­ence was a sense that Rom­ney did not out­right re­ject the ideas be­hind the DREAM Act, le­gis­la­tion that would cre­ate a path to cit­izen­ship to people brought to the United States il­leg­ally as chil­dren, if they pur­sue a col­lege edu­ca­tion or mil­it­ary ser­vice.

However, sev­er­al Demo­crats — in­clud­ing Obama — poin­ted to Rom­ney’s em­phat­ic op­pos­i­tion to the DREAM Act dur­ing the primary cam­paign. Many called Rom­ney’s ideas vague and ac­cused him of de­lib­er­ately avoid­ing say­ing wheth­er he would over­turn Obama’s new policy of let­ting young un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants ap­ply for tem­por­ary de­port­a­tion re­prieves and work per­mits (Rom­ney said in his speech he would pro­pose com­pre­hens­ive re­form that would “su­per­sede” Obama’s or­der).

“This is clearly a con­trast between ac­tion and words,” said Texas State Rep. Trey Mar­tinez Fisc­her, a Demo­crat. “We heard a bunch of great ideas about im­mig­ra­tion policies, but we know that when Gov. Rom­ney is fun­drais­ing in oth­er parts of the coun­try, he talks about veto­ing the DREAM Act, build­ing walls, do­ing things that take Lati­nos back for gen­er­a­tions.”

Many gave Rom­ney cred­it for ap­pear­ing at the con­fer­ence even with the know­ledge that the crowd would be largely com­prised of Demo­crats sup­port­ive of Obama. “I think he ba­sic­ally showed them that he did care one way or an­oth­er, he did be­lieve in the Latino vote and that he did be­lieve that im­mig­ra­tion is an is­sue,” said Re­pub­lic­an polit­ic­al con­sult­ant Esteban Fer­reiro. “I think he did what he needed to do with­in his be­liefs.”

Even Demo­crats like Utah State Sen­ate minor­ity lead­er Ross Romero said Rom­ney’s in­ten­tions seemed sin­cere, even if his policy pro­pos­als were too gen­er­al. “The fact that he spent 20 minutes, 30 minutes walk­ing the rope line after his speech said to me that he knew he had work to do, he knew that he needed to make those one-on-one con­nec­tions, and the fact that we were re­spect­ful when he was speak­ing lent for that op­por­tun­ity,” Romero said.

Rom­ney is un­likely to make much head­way with his at­tempts to con­vince the His­pan­ic com­munity that the pres­id­ent is tak­ing their votes for gran­ted. Most Obama sup­port­ers, like Leija, blame Re­pub­lic­ans in Con­gress for block­ing im­mig­ra­tion re­form. And as for the charge that Obama broke a prom­ise by not ap­pear­ing at NA­LEO in every year of his pres­id­ency?

“I’ve been a mem­ber of NA­LEO for 12 years and I’ve nev­er seen Gov. Rom­ney here,” Mar­tinez Fisc­her said. “The fact of the mat­ter is, [Obama is] the pres­id­ent of the United States and he’s the lead­er of the world and we don’t ex­pect him to be at every place every time we have a con­ven­ing. But we know where we stand with­in his policies.”

What We're Following See More »
Mueller Tells Court He’s Ready for Papadopoulos Sentencing
38 minutes ago
Federal Judge Rules that Trump Can’t Block Twitter Users
1 hours ago
AT LEAST $400,000
Ukraine Paid Cohen To Arrange Trump Meeting
1 hours ago

President Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen was paid at least $400,000 to arrange a meeting between Victor Poroshenko and President Trump, according to sources in Kiev. Shortly after the meeting, which was held at the White House was last June, the Ukrainian "anti-corruption agency stopped its investigation into Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort." Poroshenko was reportedly desperate to meet with Trump, after documents leaked under his watch revealed that President Trump's campaign manager Paul Manafort had failed to disclose his connections with the Ukrainian presidential elections, in violation of U.S. election law.

Ohio Democrats File Gerrymandering Suit
2 hours ago

Ohio Democratic voters have filed suit against Ohio Governor John Kasich and other Republican state officials over alleged partisan gerrymandering in Ohio's electoral map. Despite capturing between 51 and 59 percent of the statewide vote in the past three elections, Republicans hold three-quarters of state congressional seats. "The U.S. Supreme Court is due by the end of June to issue major rulings in two partisan gerrymandering cases from Wisconsin and Maryland that could affect the Ohio suit."

Iran May Have Restarted Missile Program
4 hours ago

An Iranian missile scientist, killed in a strike in 2011 along with his research center, oversaw the development of a secret, second facility in the remote Iranian desert that ... is operating to this day," according to a team of California weapons experts. "For weeks, the researchers picked through satellite photos of the facility. They found, they say, that work on the site now appears to focus on advanced rocket engines and rocket fuel, and is often conducted under cover of night."


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.