Sept. 20, 2012 -- MIAMI, FL -- On the defensive after receiving bad press from his "47 percent" remarks, Mitt Romney sat down with Univision hosts on Wednesday evening in Miami, FL to win over Latino voters, a key voting block in this election. By most counts, the audience inside the event loved the Republican nominee.
But, the students on the University of Miami campus, where the event was held, were less enthusiastic.
Members of the select group invited to watch the candidate's speech even booed the anchors, Maria Elena Salinas and Jorge Ramos, for repeatedly pressing questions related to immigration-- a question which has hurt the candidate with Hispanic voters. When Ramos asked the candidate to explain his "self-deportation" remarks made during the Republican primary, the audience audibly disapproved. "I have some friends, apparently," Romney noted.
Some audience members were chosen ahead of time by the Romney campaign. Tickets were initially offered to University of Miami students to attend the "Meet the Candidates" events, but most offers were rescinded by both the Obama and Romney campaigns in favor of hand-selected audiences.
"These broadcast events are a partnership between the political campaigns, Univision, Facebook and the University of Miami," read a statement from Monica Talan, a spokeswoman from Univision. "Due to campaign restrictions, the University prioritized event tickets to politically affiliated student organizations and student leaders. The University received roughly half of the total ticket allocation for each event."
After filling out an application to enter the student ticket raffle, U of M senior Peter Leitten was disappointed to learn that the ticket lottery had been shut down and instead a small number of tickets were handed out to members of student groups like the student council and the Republican club on campus.
Leitten, a Republican himself, was relegated to watching the event instead with fellow students in the U of M student lounge, where the talk was live-streamed. Dozens of students gathered around a projection screen to hear the candidate speak (and to eat the free pizza and popcorn advertised in flyers for the event.)
But this crowd wasn't quite as curated as Romney's audience inside the BankUnited Center Field House. One U of M student held a sign that read, "ROMNEY, 'WHO IS WE THE PEOPLE?'" while other viewers snickered during uncomfortable moments in the conversation -- such as the discussion of gay marriage and Romney's Spanish-language outreach campaign in the face of his belief that English should be made the official language.
U of M senior and undecided voter Kim Blum, who watched the livestream in the student lounge, noted it was likely that many in attendance were there to "make fun of" the Republican nominee.
"I feel like there are definitely more people here who are voting for Obama," she said.
Romney supporters on the U of M campus are vastly outnumbered by Obama supporters, Leitten says. "It kind of seems to be the uncool thing at college," he noted.
The cynicism of the U of M student crowd reflected the struggle the Romney campaign has faced in winning over both young voters and Latino voters. President Obama maintains a large lead with Hispanics -- with 66% of registered Hispanic voters saying they support Obama, and 29% expressing support Mitt Romney, according to the most recent Latino Decisions poll. Romney also trails Obama with voters under the age of 30, according to a new poll from Wednesday from the Pew Research Center.
A young Latino Obama-supporter who turned out to watch Romney's speech at the student lounge was U of M senior Julián Castro, who shares more than just a name with DNC keynote speaker Mayor Julián Castro.
Head Model UN delegate at U of M, Castro says he favors Obama in part because he subscribes to the "Obama brand" of foreign policy over the "Romney brand". Those polled in Wednesday's Pew study also preferred Obama over Romney by about 15 percentage points, and two thirds of those surveyed disapproved of Romney's comments criticizing the administration after the U.S. ambassador's death.
Castro noted that Romney handled the questions from Univision's anchors with relative grace on Wednesday night.
"He got past the hard part which was the immigration questions. He defended himself and answered her question pretty smoothly, without really answering the questions," he said.
During the candidate forum, Romney vowed not to round up undocumented immigrants, but did still did not offer any specifics on his plan to handle those young immigrants who are eligible for temporary relief from deportation under Obama's "deferred action" policy.
"For those who are already here and that are undocumented and were brought here by their parents and are therefore illegal aliens in this country, my view is that we should put in place a permanent solution," Romney said.
The larger problem for both candidates, but Romney especially, will be getting young and Latino voters to actually show up on election day, Castro noted.
"It's not just how much you hate the other guy. It's about how excited you are to vote for your guy," he said.