FORT WORTH, Texas - Making a rare stop in the Lone Star State today, Mitt Romney made a direct appeal to Hispanic voters, vowing that if elected, he would be the president of "all Americans, Hispanic and otherwise."
"These have been particularly hard times," said Romney, who spoke at the Hispanic-run Southwest Office Systems, the largest minority-owned, independent office supply dealer in the country.
"This Obama economy has been hard, particularly on Hispanic businesses and Hispanic Americans, and I don't know if you've seen the numbers recently, but did you know that the rate of unemployment among Hispanic Americans rose last month to 11 percent?"
Romney, who has not paid an enormous amount of attention to the Hispanic vote during his campaign - last month he dedicated an entire speech at the Latino Coalition's Annual Economic Luncheon to his education policy - today homed in on the issues facing Hispanic voters. His campaign released a web video called "Dismal," to show the impact of Obama's economic policies on Hispanics.
But it's an uphill climb for Romney with Hispanic voters, and that was palpable here today, when a small group of protestors chanting "Education not deportation" disrupted the event. Romney's immigration plan includes what he called "self-deportation" to get illegal immigrants to return to their home countries, where they can then apply for legal citizenship.
And in an ABC News/Washington Post poll taken earlier this spring, 73 percent of Latinos supported Obama, compared with 26 percent for Romney.
Here today, Romney briefed the crowd on the economic challenges facing Hispanic Americans.
"And that the people in this country that are poor, living in poverty, one out of three are Hispanic American," Romney continued. "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, but this has been such an anti-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."
Then, specifically pivoting to attacks on the president, Romney asked the crowd of Obama, "So what's he doing?"
"What's he doing now? Well it's amazing three and a half years in, three and a half years in as president, with America in crisis, with 23 million people out of work or stopped looking for work, he hasn't put forth a plan to get us working again," he said. "Now I know we're getting close to an election, so he'll come out with one soon."
Name-dropping Texan and former President George W. Bush, Romney suggested that Obama uses the former president as a scapegoat for the flailing economy.
"President George W. Bush was at the White House for the unveiling of his painting last week," said Romney, as the crowd cheered at the sound of Bush's name. "You know, he's always an easy target and so he's blamed. But after three and half years people have figured out this is Obama's economy, not George Bush's economy."
A spokeswoman for the Obama re-election campaign tweaked Romney's new campaign slogan, "Put Jobs First," which hung in banner form over the candidate's head as well as a on a placard on the podium, following the event.
"In Texas today, Mitt Romney stood in front of a banner saying 'put jobs first', but we already know that he wouldn't put jobs first as president," said Lis Smith, Obama campaign spokeswoman.
"As a corporate buyout specialist, he didn't put jobs first. His only goal was creating wealth for himself and his investors. And he certainly didn't put jobs first as governor, when he drove Massachusetts down to 47th out of 50 states in job creation. Now he wants to bring back the same policies that crashed the economy and devastated the middle class in the first place: budget-busting tax cuts for the wealthiest on the middle class' dime and letting Wall Street write its own rules. Romney economics didn't work then, and it won't work now."