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Wednesday, June 20, 2012 | 2 a.m.
- Hispanic voters targeted in new ad blitz for Obama (06-11-2012)
- Dream Act advocates in Las Vegas quickly strike against GOP proposal (03-30-2012)
- Reid hoping renewed interest in Dream Act will give party a boost (03-11-2012)
- More Sun immigration coverage
- Las Vegas Sol blog
- More political news from the Sun
If Mitt Romney wants to win in November, capturing the vote of conservatives like Jim Gonzalez would be a good start.
Gonzalez, state director for the Latino political organization Somos (We are) Republicans, believes in fiscal restraint, limited government and conservative social policy. He also believes in “compassionate” immigration reform and creating a path to citizenship for the productive members of society who reside here illegally. Most importantly for Romney, Gonzalez lives in Nevada, a battleground state.
Gonzalez said if the election were today, he would not vote.
“I’m on the fence,” he said. “Right now, I would stay out of the election. I couldn’t bring myself to vote for either one of them.”
President Barack Obama is a nonstarter, Gonzalez said, but Romney still has a chance to sway Gonzalez.
“(Romney) would have to out-do Obama’s decision on Friday,” Gonzalez said. “He would have to come up with something way better, a complete open door to become citizens, something that great. Immigration is very important to me, but to vote for Obama, I’d have to give up pro-life, my belief in conservative economics. I’d rather not vote.”
As both campaigns push forward toward the November election, the dialogue on immigration will now shift in the wake of Obama’s executive order Friday deferring the deportation of a whole class of young immigrants brought to the country illegally at an early age.
In states like Nevada, where 14 percent of the electorate is Hispanic — and 30,000 people are eligible for the new deferment, according to the Migration Policy Institute — the messages could play a key part in both Hispanic voter decisions and turnout.
George W. Bush, who garnered 40 percent of the Latino vote in 2004 on his way to the Oval Office, won the Jim Gonzalezes of the world. By contrast, Arizona Sen. John McCain, the Republican nominee in 2008, won just 31 percent of Latino voters in his presidential bid, according to the Pew Research Center.
Prior to Obama’s announcement Friday, the GOP and Democrats repeated a few immigration talking points like mantras. Republicans said Obama had failed to move on immigration reform during his time in office. Obama’s supporters said the Republicans were obstructionist and a vote on the Dream Act, legislation that would create a path toward citizenship, failed because no GOP senators would sign on.
In May, American Principles in Action, a conservative political organization, launched Nevada Hispanics. At the news conference announcing the new organization, speakers criticized the Obama administration’s deportation rate, which is 30 percent higher than it was under George W. Bush.
“Nevada Hispanics have always been for a more humane approach to the immigration reform question. ... We welcome the opportunity that the president has given us to expand the conversation,” said Nelson Santiago, Nevada Hispanics communications director. “On the other hand, this is transparently political. It concerns me that it’s not legislation, that it can be taken away by others or could be challenged in the courts. You are dealing with something very emotional, and to offer something that could be easily taken away two years later is dangerous.”
Yet, Santiago acknowledged the advantages the move afforded Obama.
“It’s an interesting political move,” he said. “If it’s challenged on legal grounds, he can say, ‘I tried, but Republicans won’t let me help you.’ If it’s not challenged, it will probably be overhauled later and then he can say, ‘I tried to do the right thing, but Republicans and their friends challenge me on everything.’”
In early 2012, well ahead of Obama’s announcement last week, more than half of Latino voters said they were less enthusiastic about Obama than they had been in 2009, a Latino Decisions/Univision News poll found. Obama’s deportation record had Latino voters souring on him, the poll showed.
About 85 percent of Latino voters support the Dream Act, and in a poll Latino Decisions and America’s Voice conducted immediately after Obama’s announcement Friday in five key battleground states — Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, Florida and Virginia — 49 percent of Hispanic voters responding said the move boosted their enthusiasm for Obama.
Latino Decision polls also have found that Romney’s statements in support of self-deportation and Arizona’s approach to immigration enforcement have had an overwhelmingly negative impact on his perception among Latino voters.
The momentum has changed, political observers say, and both sides will adjust their immigration rhetoric.
“(T)he president has had three years to work with Congress to reform the immigration system and help undocumented children. Unilateral action by the administration will not provide a long-term solution to this very serious issue. Democrats and Republicans need to come together to solve this problem. Temporary actions will only fuel uncertainty for these children and their families,” Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., wrote in a statement after the announcement.
Jennifer Korn, executive director of the conservative organization Hispanic Leadership Network, called Obama’s announcement a “cynical” attempt at courting the Hispanic community. She agreed that Obama had taken some initiative in ceasing control of the debate and Romney would need to be clear in his message.
“If I were Romney, I wouldn’t change much. He has a good Hispanic advisory committee. He has people on the ground in targeted states, Spanish language ads, and he will be speaking to the Hispanic community,” Korn said. “He should not avoid these issues. He needs to really look at it and figure out what he truly believes. The message needs to be very clear now because the (Obama campaign) will try to use this as a catalyst to re-energize Hispanic voters.”
Democrats can argue that Obama will be poised to tackle a legislative solution to immigration reform if re-elected and point to the lack of concrete alternatives offered by the GOP.
“There’s no doubt that Obama would make immigration reform a priority in his second term,” said state Sen. Ruben Kihuen, one of Nevada’s Democratic National Committeemen. “Everyone acknowledges this is just a temporary solution. Meanwhile, Republicans need to soften their rhetoric on immigration. I have a lot of Hispanic Republican friends, and they were turned off by the Republican presidential debates. There was all that talk of electrical fences, self-deportation. These are not practical solutions, and they are tired of it. Hispanics want to see a realistic solution to the problem.”
The Democrats also hope this will lead to a clearer contrast between Obama and Romney.
“I see this as showing the president’s commitment to finding a sensible solution and solidifying his stance on immigration and deportations,” said Assemblywoman Olivia Diaz, D-Las Vegas. “This move has encouraged a comparison that shows Obama has always been supportive of immigration reform while Romney has said Arizona is a model for the nation.”
While polls show Hispanics, like most voters, place the economy and jobs over all other issues, immigration is still an important issue.
“I’m not feeling clear about (Romney’s) or the Republic Party’s position on immigration,” Gonzalez said. “At least Obama has taken action. Now that has been on his plate for a long while, and everyone was waiting for him to do something. But what he did was show leadership, and I hope that starts a bigger dialogue that the Republicans participate in.”