I recently wrote about the opportunity presented to Republicans to gain ground with all Americans – including Hispanics – by focusing on solutions, most importantly, in the context of jobs and the economy. Seldom are there elections where pundits and prognosticators all agree on the issue that will exclusively decide the outcome of the contest, yet in 2012, they do. No one disputes the state of our nation’s economic recovery and the unemployment rate will play an outsized role in determining who occupies the residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in late January 2013.
In fact, according to recent polling released by USA Today/Gallup, “Hispanic registered voters, however, put healthcare and all economic issues before immigration, which 12% name as their most important issue.” When unemployment and economic growth are taken together with registered Latino voters, the number rises to 36%, clearly surpassing any other issue.
Therefore, with unemployment rising from 10.3 percent in April to 11 percent in May among Hispanics, President Obama and his team in Chicago should be deeply concerned about where this leaves them with the fastest growing segment of the electorate. And while no one will argue that President Obama doesn’t currently enjoy a significant lead over former Governor Mitt Romney among Latinos according to recent national polling, he cannot afford to take these voters for granted.
First, just as it is true with every other voter group, the economy will overshadow all else with Hispanics, including education and immigration, even though these issues are extremely important and in many ways define candidates in the eyes of these voters. Next, while President Obama has worked hard to address education reform garnering some support from conservatives, he has stumbled badly on immigration just as his Republican opponent.
If the White House’s failure to lead on immigration is coupled with a rapidly deteriorating employment situation, Governor Romney may be provided a very real opportunity to gain ground. The team in Boston understands they don’t need to win the majority of the Hispanic vote. Coupled with the president’s poor standing among working whites, all Romney has to do is improve his standing sufficiently among Latinos in Florida, Nevada, Colorado and a few other states, and he could be in business. The very best way for former Governor Romney and his team to do that is to focus on unleashing the private sector, big and small companies alike, and talk about creating jobs.
In response to this very real threat, President Obama’s allies have begun a significant and well-financed Spanish-language advertising campaign targeting Hispanic voters. These ads deride Romney for saying he likes to fire people and has experienced unemployment. They are powerful in that they strike at the core of Romney’s vulnerability with Latinos, which isn’t just an overly aggressive stance on immigration, but an inability to identify with these voters on a personal level. Hispanics – by and large – like President Obama and believe he understands them to a much greater degree than his opponent.
If the former Massachusetts Governor can leverage recent jobs data, work with Latino elected officials, such as Senator Marco Rubio and Governors Luis Fortuño, Susana Martinez and Brian Sandoval, it may provide him a much greater degree of credibility with these voters and help with the connection gap. Coupling that increased ethos with effective communication on the President’s fundamental and obvious failures in the eyes of Hispanics, such as the absence of any meaningful effort on immigration reform, and a positive, forward-looking plan to turn the economy around for all Americans, including Latinos, and it may be just the ticket the Republican standard bearer needs.
With Hispanics rejecting Obama policy stances on issues such as deportations and growing unease with the administration’s performance on job creation, the former Massachusetts governor has a clearer path with regard to Latinos than at any point in this race. He would be wise to seize it and drive home the economic failings of the Obama Administration with the hope and expectation the argument obscures his missteps on issues such as immigration putting his campaign in position to win just enough Hispanic votes in targeted states to obtain victory on November 6th.