Obama, Romney Battle for Hispanic Votes in Swing States

PHOTO:In this Feb. 4, 2012 file photo, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks in Las Vegas. President Barack Obama and his Republican rival Mitt Romney are battling more than just each other in diverse and politically divided Nevada.
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President Obama, Republican nominee Mitt Romney and their respective allies are kicking off summer with a push to court Hispanic voters in states where Hispanics could play a decisive role in November's election.

Priorities USA Action, the pro-Obama super PAC, and Service Employees International Union, one of the nation's largest labor groups, joined the fray Monday with a $4 million Spanish-language TV ad campaign attacking Romney's economic experience.

The 30-second spot -- "Mitt Romney: En Sus Propias Palabras" -- is reported to be one of the largest-ever independent Spanish-language presidential ad campaigns. It will run in Colorado, Nevada and Florida, the group said.

"This ad is part of a broader effort to ensure Latino voters know the stakes in this election, and who has been on the side of Latino families and who will continue to stand with them in the coming years," said SEIU political director Brandon Davis.

Obama for America, the president's re-election committee, has been on the air in the same states since late April. It has run three flights of Spanish-language TV ads that feature Hispanic supporters testifying to the positive impact of Obama's first-term policies.

Meanwhile, Romney and Republicans have stepped up their appeals to what is the nation's fastest-growing voting bloc, launching a national Hispanic outreach effort led by Carlos Gutierrez, who served as Secretary of Commerce under President George W. Bush. The push includes a series of web and TV ads with an economic pitch.

"The Hispanic community has been especially hard-hit by President Obama's policies," Gutierrez said in a statement. "We need a leader who will bring back jobs, help small businesses, and ensure that the American Dream remains for future generations."

The intensifying focus on Hispanics by both campaigns underscores their looming influence in key general election battleground this fall. An estimated 12 million are expected to go to the polls in November, up 26 percent from 2008, according to projections by the National Association of Latino Elected Officials.

While Hispanics have long been a strong Democratic constituency, Republicans believe that if they can woo enough voters from Obama's side, they can tilt the balance in Romney's favor in states like Colorado, Nevada and Florida, where the race is close in early polls.

In Colorado, where Obama and Romney are tied in the most recent NBC/Marist poll, Hispanics played a significant factor in Obama's victory four years ago. While the president carried just 50 percent of white voters there in 2008 against Sen. John McCain, Hispanics broke for Obama by a 61 to 38 percent margin, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

The same dynamic was evident in Nevada, where 58 percent of Hispanics' votes went to Obama in 2008, lifting him over McCain, 55 to 42 percent overall. The race there between Obama and Romney is now virtually tied in the latest NBC/Marist poll.

Obama's narrow victory in Florida four years ago also came with help from Hispanics, who broke for him by a 57 to 42 percent margin, according to Pew, compared with whites who preferred McCain by 56 to 42 percent.

Obama leads Romney nationwide among Hispanics, 67 to 26 percent, according to the latest Gallup poll. And many Republicans acknowledge that Romney faces an uphill battle with the constituency headed into the fall.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican and possible Romney running mate, recently said that Latinos "have been alienated" over the course of the GOP campaign this past year, even taking aim at Romney's immigration policy of "self-deportation."

Most political analysts say 40 percent support is a watermark for any successful candidate for the White House. (George W. Bush won 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004; John McCain got 31 percent in 2008.)

President Obama's campaign faces the challenge of mobilizing and energizing Hispanic voters to turn out in the same numbers as they did in 2008 despite high unemployment within the Hispanic community, lingering disappointment with administration's deportation policies, and failure to enact comprehensive immigration reform as promised in the last campaign.

The unemployment rate among Hispanics was 11.0 percent in May, up from 10.3 percent in April, according to the Labor Department. The Obama administration also continues to deport record numbers of undocumented immigrants, while an effort to delay removal of aliens without criminal records has had a relatively small impact, according to numbers from the Department of Homeland Security.

"Did you know that the rate of unemployment among Hispanic Americans rose last month to 11 percent? And that the people in this country that are poor, living in poverty, one out of three are Hispanic American?" Romney said last week at a Texas campaign stop.

"And among young Hispanic Americans the poverty rate is 30 percent? And Hispanic Americans in... large measure have looked to entrepreneurs and innovators and small business to get going," he said, "but this has been such an... anti-small business, hostile to small business environment that it's been harder for those businesses to open up their doors and to hire more people."

By focusing on the economy, Romney is asking Hispanic swing voters to choose their pocketbooks and social values over immigration-related issues, while underlining Obama's unfulfilled promises.

The Spanish-language version of Romney's first general election TV ad, "Dia Uno," focuses on steps a President Romney would take to boost the economy on his first day in office. It's airing in Iowa, North Carolina, Virginia and Ohio, the Romney campaign said.

Obama and Democrats, meanwhile, are highlighting Romney's past statements on immigration and the alleged negative impact of his economic policies on the middle class, arguing a Romney presidency would be bad for Hispanic families.

"Latinos will not forget that he smears the motives of immigrants who come here for a better life. That he called one of Arizona's immigration laws a model for the nation. That he wants to make immigrants lives so miserable that they self-deport. Or that he destroys young people's hopes by opposing the Dream Act," said Eliseo Medina, secretary-treasurer of the SEIU, on a conference call with reporters.

"When Latinos hear Romney in his own words, they really know what is going on and what he is saying," he said.

Both candidates are expected to head to Florida later this month to address the National Association of Latino Elected Officials at a conference in Orlando. The event will serve as a backdrop for broader messages to the Hispanic community.

For Obama, the speech fulfills a 2008 promise he made to the group to return as president. It also offers him a chance to tout policies from his first term that have benefitted Latinos. It will be the first time he and Romney will address a major Latino organization back to back.

The president will also return to Florida on June 26 to court Hispanic donors at a splashy Miami Beach fundraiser hosted by singer/songwriter Marc Anthony.

"Latinos are a force that can and will help decide this election. And it's a good thing that we've got so much to say, right?" Anthony says in a new web video for Obama's campaign. "We have jobs, the economy, education. President Obama is on our side on all of them. We just have to make sure that he gets four more years to make more progress. The president has our back."

ABC News' Matthew Jaffe contributed to this report.

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