By Alan Gomez
September 6, 2012
At times, the 2012 presidential conventions have looked like Spanish-language TV broadcasts.
In Tampa, Republicans featured Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez. In Charlotte, Democrats countered with San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez.
Republicans threw out Puerto Rican first lady Luce Fortuno, and Democrats countered with Benita Veliz, an illegal immigrant from Mexico. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio introduced Republican nominee Mitt Romney at the Republican National Convention, and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa introduced former president Bill Clinton at the Democratic forum.
Republicans believe President Obama has lost the enthusiasm of those voters and are making an all-out effort to snatch them up.
“Obama is going to carry the Latino vote. By a substantial margin,” said Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles. “But what we have to ask here is, ‘Can Romney make just enough inroads with Latino voters … in states like Florida, Colorado, Nevada?’ “
The 2008 election was a great one for Obama, winning 67% of the Hispanic vote. But many Hispanics have grown disillusioned.
The DREAM Act, which would grant legal status to illegal immigrants brought to the country as children, went nowhere, and Obama couldn’t get any traction in Congress on a comprehensive immigration bill that would address the 11 million illegal immigrants living in the U.S.
And each year, he sets a record for the number of illegal immigrants deported from the country — nearly 400,000 last year.
“We have to say that we’re disappointed,” said Rafael Fantauzzi, president of the National Puerto Rican Coalition. “For three years, things went bad for our community.”
But in June, Obama announced a new program that will delay any deportation proceedings for up to 1.7 million young illegal immigrants for two years, and grant them work permits.
“We were very disenchanted with Obama,” said Carlos Alcala, executive director of the Chicano Latino Caucus of the California Democratic Party. “But when he did the executive order, all was forgiven. All was forgotten.”
Romney has had his own difficulties reaching out to Hispanics.
He said during the GOP primaries he would support only a limited version of the DREAM Act and endorsed the rights of states like Arizona to pass tough immigration laws. He embraced the idea of “self-deportation,” which means making life so difficult for illegal immigrants that they choose to return to their home countries.
Democrats have pounced on those issues. During the Democratic convention, Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen called Romney “the most hard-lined, hard-edged person” on immigration, Obama campaign press secretary Ben LaBolt called him “the most extreme nominee on the issue of immigration in decades” and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley called him the most extreme presidential nominee “in modern history.”
But Romney supporters point out that immigration is not the top priority for Hispanics — it’s the economy and jobs, like all other Americans, and there, they say, Obama is doing poorly.
“President Obama can’t run on his accomplishments for Hispanics because there aren’t any,” says Romney spokesman Alberto Martinez. “Under President Obama, Hispanic unemployment is through the roof, he broke his promise on immigration reform, and his reckless debt threatens the American Dream Hispanics sacrificed for and want to leave behind to their children.”
Both parties recognize the importance of pushing Hispanics to the polls and have coordinators on the ground in key states to get Hispanics supporters to the polls.
“You know how you deal with enthusiasm?” Villaraigosa said Thursday. “You knock on a door, you make a phone call, you make sure that people come out to vote. And I think with this convention … I think you’ll see the enthusiasm build up. On both sides, by the way.”