Obama’s Preemptive Strike for the Hispanic Vote

Polls of Hispanic voters have shown Obama with as much as a 40-point lead so far over Romney. While Obama’s support level among other strongly Democratic voting groups, such as African Americans and Jews, seems to have softened a bit this cycle, the major fear in the Obama camp about Hispanic voters has been about turnout. That fear centered on Obama’s disappointing record on immigration issues -- one of many the president ignored during the year-long health-care fight when his team had the votes to do whatever they wanted on pretty much any issue in Congress.

Concerns about Hispanic turnout also reflect the high mobility of Hispanics, who move at a higher rate between the states than other groups do, and often do not register to vote in their new locations. States such as North Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia have seen very large increases in their Hispanic population in the last ten years. While there are about 10 million more Hispanics than African Americans in the U.S. at this point, there are fewer Hispanic citizens than African Americans. In addition, the Hispanic population is skewed towards the under age 18 group due to a far higher birth rate (3.5 per woman of child-bearing age) than for other groups (2 or fewer). As a result, while Hispanics make up 16% of the population, they may account for only 8 to 9% of registered voters in any cycle, barely half of their population share.

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida had been considered to be one of the top prospects for Romney’s VP selection. With a new biography and autobiography of Rubio due out next week, and with Rubio working on offering up a bipartisan version of a DREAM Act in the Senate, the Obama announcement on Friday may have diminished the prospects for Rubio’s selection. Obama campaign advisor David Axelrod has seemed obsessed with Rubio, and he may have pushed  Obama’s preemptive strike against him.

Now even if Rubio releases a Senate bill (one that, unlike Obama’s action, will be clearly lawful), it will seem like a Johnny-come-lately-to-the-party approach. To the extent that Romney thinks his chances in Colorado and Nevada are now not that great, it may focus his VP thinking more on the Midwest than the Southwest, and to either Ohio Senator Rob Portman or Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, who is Catholic.

Florida is a state that Romney has to win, but  its Hispanic population consists mainly of Cubans and Puerto Ricans, for whom Obama’s  policy shift matters far less. Romney may believe he can win Florida without Rubio, a view seconded by New York Times statistics guru Nate Silver. On the other hand, Romney’s current bus trip is through six states -- four of them part of the Democrats’ “blue wall." These are states John Kerry won in 2004. They include New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin (plus Ohio and Iowa), which suggests that Romney sees a path to victory without winning back the states McCain lost in the Southwest.

New Mexico is considered safe for Obama. Colorado and Nevada between them have 15 Electoral College votes. Michigan (16) and Pennsylvania (20) each have more, and  Wisconsin (10) plus Iowa (6) would also substitute. While Nevada  has looked like an uphill climb for Romney even before Friday’s announcement, Colorado was polling close to even.  It will be interesting to see if there is any shift in the polls in these states following the announcement. If there is, I expect it to be small.

On balance, the Obama announcement is likely to facilitate Hispanic registration efforts and solidify Obama’s lead among Hispanics. Those who are most vocal in their opposition to Obama’s action were likely not in his camp anyway.