Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney on Thursday made an appeal to Hispanic voters, a constituency that opinion surveys suggest remains strongly committed to President Barack Obama ahead of this year’s U.S. election. Romney spoke to a group of Latino elected officials meeting in Florida and the president is expected to address the same group on Friday.
In his speech, Mitt Romney focused on the domestic economy, arguing that Hispanic families have suffered along with the rest of the country during Obama’s time in office.
“I’d ask each of you to honestly look at the last three and one-half years and ask whether we can do better," he said. "Is the America of 11 percent Hispanic unemployment the America of our dreams? We can do better.”
The former Massachusetts governor has been on the defensive in recent days, following the recent announcement by President Obama to end the deportation of many children of illegal aliens, a move popular with the nation's immigrant community.
Romney said he would take a different approach, but offered no specifics.
“I will put in place my own long term solution that will replace and supersede the president’s temporary measure," he said. "As president I won’t settle for stop gap measures.”
Romney said he would address the issue of illegal immigration in a “civil, but resolute manner” and restated his support for a border fence between the United States and Mexico.
Romney and his rivals for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination took a hard line on illegal immigration during this year’s primary campaign, and some Hispanic voters were offended by some of the harsh rhetoric.
Last week, President Obama announced a change in policy that will let many young people brought to the United States illegally to remain in the country to study and pursue careers.
“They are Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one - on paper," he said.
Immigration activists have enthusiastically welcomed the change and many suggest that the move could help the president solidify support among Hispanic voters in the November election.
“We want to ensure that the Latino and immigrant communities in the United States are really energized by this announcement, but also ready to fully participate in the implementation of President Obama’s announcement and that they get involved in the civic life of our country," said Cristina Jimenez, who is with the United We Dream Network, one of several groups that took part in a recent Washington rally.
But political analyst Charlie Cook says Democrats might face a challenge this year in motivating Hispanic voters to go to the polls.
“If you were going to say, 'What are the three or four top priorities of the Obama campaign,' it won’t be convincing Latino voters so much," he said. "It will be motivating them to get out [to vote] because in terms of the convincing, they are on a very good track. But they have to motivate them.”
Former Republican Representative Tom Davis of Virginia says that in the end, voter concerns about the economy will trump efforts to motivate Hispanics and other key Democratic voting blocs.
“In this election, with the economy in the front, it kind of masks the traditional ethnic and cultural coalitions that we have come together on," said Davis. "And I just think it hurts the president.”
Recent public opinion surveys show President Obama drawing about 67 percent support from the Hispanic community, similar to his percentage when he ran for office against Republican John McCain in 2008.