President Obama’s relationship with Hispanic advocacy groups and lawmakers hasn’t always been perfect. But with the election a year off, he’s starting to put up some strong polling numbers among Latino voters.
Obama’s approval ratings among Hispanic voters — and the broader electorate — have been relatively weak at times this year, but as the Republican primary campaign hits the home stretch he’s showing no signs of trouble in matchups with any of his potential opponents. An extensive survey of Latino voters by Univision this week showed Obama racking up similarly high margins against Mitt Romney (67-24), Rick Perry (68-21), and Herman Cain (65-22). The 2-1 ratio is roughly in line with Obama’s margin against John McCain in 2008.
Republicans have made immigration an issue in the campaign as Romney’s attacked Perry over granting in-state tuition to illegal immigrants and Cain has sometimes seriously, sometimes jokingly proposed frying border crossers on an electric fence. Everyone is on record bashing the DREAM Act, a bill Republicans have blocked in the Senate that enjoys 84% support from Latino voters, according to Univision. Regardless of who wins the nomination, clips of these statements will follow the party into the general election, and the Obama campaign is clearly pleased to see the GOP tacking right.
“We may just run clips of the Republican debates verbatim,” Obama told reporters last week. “We won’t even comment on them, we’ll just run those in a loop on Univision and Telemundo, and people can make up their own minds.”
The Obama campaign is stepping up efforts to court Latino voters, hiring Adrian Saenz as its Latino vote coordinator and launching a new outreach program as part of its broader “Operation Vote” campaign to target base demographics. Saenz was on the 2008 presidential campaign as well, where he ran state efforts in Texas and New Mexico.
Running up the numbers with Obama’s base is crucial to winning re-election in what looks to be a much tougher environment than 2008 and the president needs all the help he can get from large Hispanic populations in a number of key swing states. Already they’re hoping that Arizona, a GOP state in 2008, will go blue in part due to a backlash over anti-immigration legislation. But it’s not just out West where turnout among Hispanic voters could be key: growing communities in Virginia, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, all of which figure to be hotly contested battlegrounds, could provide a critical boost.
“We have to go out there and focus on expanding the electorate,” Saenz told Univision. “Having been a state director, I think it’s important that when we’re putting together these programs … it’s important to build them at the state level.”