Barack Obama addresses Latino officeholders in Florida
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – President Obama on Friday came before a boisterous Latino conference here, trumpeting his actions to make it easier for children to stay in the country legally while heavily criticizing Republicans for not doing more.
“Lifting the shadows of deportations and giving them hope – it was the right thing to do! The right thing to do!” Obama said at gathering at Walt Disney World by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. “To those who are saying that congress should be the one to fix this, absolutely. For those who say we should do this in a bipartisan fashion, absolutely. My door’s been open for three and a half years. They know where to find me.”
The speech came a day after Mitt Romney addressed the same crowd from the same podium. The former Massachusetts governor sought to blunt some of the hard-line rhetoric he adopted during the Republican primary, and instead emphasized new policies that would make it easier for immigrants to establish permanent residency.
Obama was received far more warmly than Romney, triggering several standing ovations, numerous fist jabs from the crowd, and long, extended cheers. He started with a little bit of Spanish – saying, essentially, that it was good to be among friends -- something Romney didn’t attempt to do.
During his 28-minute speech, Obama never mentioned Romney by name, but he referenced him three times.
“Your speaker from yesterday has a different view,” Obama said. “In a speech he said that when he makes a promise, he’ll keep it. Well, he has promised to veto the DREAM Act. And we should take him at his word…I’m just sayin’.”
Obama last week announced a shift in policy that has been hailed by immigrant advocacy groups, turning an event at which he could have been booed into a festive one that felt like a campaign rally. Obama bypassed Congress to immediately stop certain deportations and instead grant work permits to an estimated 800,000 younger illegal immigrants, an initiative short of the DREAM Act, which would establish a path to citizenship for young illegal immigrants .
Hispanics are a growing part of the political electorate, and could play a major role in several crucial swing states, particularly Colorado, Nevada, and here in Florida. Obama has an overwhelming edge among Hispanics, with polls giving him more than a 2-to-1 margin over Romney.
A new poll released on Friday found that Obama is extending his lead over Romney among Latinos in key battleground states. The poll, conducted by Latino Decisions, found that Obama had a 63 percent to 27 percent lead over Romney in five swing states. But Obama’s lead was even greater in Arizona, Colorado, and Nevada.
The poll also found that support for Obama had intensified after his announcement last week, with 60 percent of respondents describing themselves as “very enthusiastic.”
In one of the most significant findings, 48 percent of respondents said they were more motivated to vote in 2012 than they were four years ago, compared with 29 percent who said they were more enthusiastic in 2008.
In January, the same pollsters found that 38 percent of Latino respondents were more enthusiastic about this year’s election, while 46 percent said they were more enthusiastic in 2008.
Obama won 67 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2008, and his campaign is trying to increase that figure. Romney’s campaign has been trying to lower it, and has a goal of winning about 40 percent of the Hispanic vote nationwide.
Obama’s new policy has significantly complicated Romney’s efforts to reach out to Hispanics. His advisers have scrambled in recent days, trying to determine a proper response that would both differentiate Romney from Obama without disparaging a policy that polls show has popular support.
The Obama campaign on Friday released an online video that showed various news clips depicting Romney avoiding answering whether he would repeal Obama’s policy if he’s elected. “Why won’t Mitt Romney give a straight answer?” it asks.
Romney on Thursday called Obama’s policy “a temporary measure that he seems to think will be just enough to get him through the election.” He suggested that he would rescind Obama’s order and replace it with something new.
“Some people have asked if I will let stand the president’s executive action,” Romney said. “The answer is that I will put in place my own long-term solution that will replace and supersede the president’s temporary measure.”
Obama returned to the conference for the first time since 2008, when he addressed the crowd as a candidate. At the time he said that he would bring 12 million illegal immigrants “out of the shadows by requiring them to take steps to become legal citizens.”
“That is a priority I will pursue from my very first day,” he pledged then. But instead, Obama prioritized health care reform and changes in financial regulations. Immigration reform became tied up in Congress and never gained traction.
Romney has sought to exploit the lack of progress on immigration, as well as the economic hardships that have hit Latinos particularly hard.
‘‘Despite his promises, President Obama has failed to address immigration reform,’’ Romney said. ‘‘For two years, this president had huge majorities in the House and Senate — he was free to pursue any policy he pleased. But he did nothing to advance a permanent fix for our broken immigration system. Nothing. Instead, he failed to act until facing a tough re-election and trying to secure your vote.’’
Several at the conference said afterward that Obama’s actions last week changed the tenor significantly, and gave them a sense that Obama was trying to do as much as he could.
“Actions speak louder than words,” said Ross Romero, a state senator in Utah. “It would have been much different if he came to only promise things instead of talk about what he had done recently.”
“Romney, when you hear what he has to say, it’s very bland,” said Paul Lopez, a city councilman in Denver. “We’re not invisible, and we shouldn’t be treated as such.”
Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, spoke about two hours before Obama took the stage. Rubio, who Romney said this week was among those being “thoroughly vetted” for vice president, never mentioned Romney in his speech but he said he was hopeful that progress could be made.
“Both my head and my heart tell me that today perhaps we are as close as we’ve ever been to a critical turning point in the debate about immigration,” Rubio said.
He pleaded for compassion for those who immigrated to the country illegally (“Who among us would not do whatever we could to feed our children, and provide for them a better future?” he asked), and he lamented that the topic has become so divisive (“How did we ever get to this point? How can immigration be a controversial and divisive issue in a nation of immigrants?”).
Rubio also highlighted what many consider to be the most vexing problem on immigration, what to do with the illegal immigrants who are already in the country.
“Here’s the truth, if we’re honest with ourselves: We don’t know yet,” he said. “It’s not easy. I know we’re not going to round up and deport 12 million people. I know we’re not going to grant amnesty to 12 million people. It’s somewhere between those two ideas is the solution.”Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.