LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - It was billed as an "official" presidential speech on policy, but President Obama's address to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials put election-year politics front and center, including direct attacks on GOP rival Mitt Romney.
"Yesterday your featured speaker came here and said that the election in November isn't about two people; it's not about being a Republican or Democrat or an independent; it is about the future of America," Obama said at the top of his remarks. Romney was the keynote speaker here on Thursday. "While we've got a lot of differences, he and I, on this point I could not agree more."
Obama cast his race with the former Massachusetts governor for the White House as a stark choice, with high economic stakes for Latinos and the middle class. And while he conceded that the economy hasn't turned around swiftly enough on his watch, he said his approach is right.
"The question is not whether we need to do better. Of course the economy isn't where it needs to be. Of course there's still too many who struggle. We've got so much work to do," Obama said. "But the question is, HOW do we make the economy grow faster? How do we create more jobs? How do we create more opportunity? The question is, what vision are we going to stand up for? Who are we going to fight for? That's what we have to decide right now. That's what this election's about."
The president said his vision for economic growth centers on increased government spending on programs, including federal aid to states to hire teachers and first responders, education and job training programs, and infrastructure projects to put construction workers back on the job. He said Republicans have been blocking him at every turn.
"What's holding us back is a stalemate, a stalemate in Washington between two fundamentally different views of which direction we should go," Obama said, echoing his campaign speech in Cleveland a week ago.
"The Republicans who run Congress, the man at the top of their ticket - they don't agree with any of the proposals I just talked about. They believe the best way to grow the economy is from the top down," he said of Romney. "I think they're wrong."
Ahead of his speech, Republicans and the Romney campaign sought to discredit Obama, highlighting the promises he made before NALEO as a candidate, some of which remain unfulfilled. They placed blame for the disproportionate impact of the recession on Latinos at the feet of Obama, though many of the economic conditions began well before he took office.
"In 2008, Candidate Obama promised NALEO he would create new jobs and end the housing crisis. Four years later, President Obama is back asking for more time," said Romney campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg in a statement.
Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus accused Obama of running from his record. "Facing chronically high levels of unemployment and with Hispanic children making up the largest group of children in poverty, they are tired of President Obama's broken promises and failed policies."
Still, Obama and his re-election campaign, which holds a significant double-digit lead over Romney among Hispanics, believe Latinos are willing to give him more time, particularly because of his approach toward immigration policy.
Obama today highlighted the executive action he took last week - suspending deportation of some young illegal immigrants and granting them work permits - as an important, albeit temporary, step toward the DREAM Act, a popular piece of legislation with the Latino audience. He blamed Republicans for obstructing its passage five years after co-sponsoring it.
"The need had not changed. The bill hadn't changed, written with Republicans. The only thing that had changed was politics," Obama said, lambasting his opponents to standing applause. "I refused to keep looking young people in the eye - deserving young people in the eye and telling them, tough luck, the politics is too hard."
Then, taking a swipe at Romney, Obama said: "Your speaker from yesterday has a different view. In his speech, he said that when he makes a promise to you, he'll keep it. Well, he has promised to veto the DREAM Act. And we should take him at his word. I'm just saying. I believe that would be a tragic mistake. You do too."