The barrage of Republican television advertising aimed at both registered Latino voters and potential Hispanic voters who have not yet registered began early this summer.
Bankrolled mostly by super political action committees grown stupendously wealthy under the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision allowing both individual donors and corporations to fund them without limit, these ads aim not to woo Latino voters, seeking instead to depress the Latino vote.
This presents both a great challenge and a rare opportunity for President Obama, who has failed to put any significant distance between himself and Republican Mitt Romney with just over two months to go before Election Day.
The ads basically seek to exploit a major Obama weakness among Latinos, America’s and California’s fastest-growing group of voters for the last 15 years. Obama, who won more than 70 percent of the Hispanic vote four years ago, has disappointed those who supported him by beefing up immigration enforcement and deporting far more illegal immigrants than predecessor George W. Bush did during his first four years. Not even Obama’s unilaterally creating a policy much like the DREAM Act (full name: Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) can make up for that.
Republican Super PACs have already spent millions on Spanish language ads reminding Latinos that Obama has not delivered on his promise to fight hard for immigration reform including some type of amnesty for illegals. Obama says that’s because his efforts have ironically been stymied by the very Republicans now placing those ads.
These disappointments might ordinarily make Hispanics ripe for picking off by Republicans. But the GOP – with Romney leading their charge during the primary season – has taken a far more aggressive anti-illegal immigrant stance than even Obama, with Romney urging “self-deportation” for millions, among other items.
Plainly, GOP strategists deciding where Super PAC money gets spent realize the vast bulk of Latino voters won’t be going for Romney. Not when polling shows 77 percent of them support the DREAM Act, which would allow temporary residency for at least six years to illegal immigrants who have served two years in the U.S. military or spent four years at an American high school and graduated. Only 11 percent of Hispanic voters oppose this idea.
The next best thing for Republicans would be to depress the Latino vote, just as their successful efforts to pass photo-ID voting laws in 10 states aim to depress the Black vote.
That left it up to Obama to do something more to take Latinos out of the “pox on both their houses” stance some have adopted.
So he lifted a page from the playbook of U.S. Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the Senate majority leader who only narrowly won reelection last year. Needing to appeal to his state’s fast-growing Latino populace in order to beat back a Tea Party Republican, Reid pledged to bring the DREAM Act to the Senate floor, something he did last September. The GOP quickly killed it.
Obama long claimed he supports the DREAM Act but can’t do much on his own, saying his hands are tied without Congressional approval.
But 100 law professors in a letter published in several newspapers this summer disagreed. The group, including faculty members from Yale and Harvard law schools, opined that the President can do plenty with his executive powers, such as protecting DREAMers from deportation.
Then 22 Democratic senators, including California’s Barbara Boxer, who benefited enormously from a large 2010 margin among Hispanics, urged Obama to do that. And he did, taking executive action to let DREAMers stay here for at least two years.
Before Reid took his pro-DREAM stance, he was trailing or even in his race two years ago. He won by about 7 percent and said later that “I would not be the majority leader in the United States Senate today but for the Hispanics in Nevada.” That’s clearly correct, as he won among Latinos by a 90-8 percent margin.
It’s safe to say that, as with Reid, only Latinos now stand between Obama and defeat. His semi-DREAM Act move, which became effective in mid-August, clearly aimed to ensure his survival. Without it, he would almost certainly have joined Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Herbert Hoover on the list of Presidents denied reelection after one term. That still could happen, but Obama helped himself enormously by acting.
Romney’s hope – reinforced by his choice of immigration hardliner Paul Ryan as his running mate – plainly is to win without significant Latino support, if only because going after that vote would probably alienate much of the Republican base, which already is lukewarm to him.
So Obama had nothing to lose by being aggressive in pursuing Hispanics. Which is why no one should be surprised if and when he adopts an even more dynamic stance on their pet issues than he has so far.