Power Players

Vota por mi! Why the Latino vote is crucial in 2012

Power Players

Political Punch

President Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney recently participated in forums with the Spanish language speaking channel Univision, with which ABC News has partnered on a new venture. The bilingual events were yet another reminder of how crucial the Latino vote will be in this election.

"There's new polling from Impre Media and Latino Decisions, and 68% of Latinos as of today support Obama and 26% support Romney," Noticias Univision anchor María Elena Salinas told ABC News.

"We have to remember since Ronald Reagan, every single candidate who has 33% of the Hispanic vote or more wins the White House," Noticias Univision anchor Jorge Ramos added.  With 43 days to go until election day, Romney is still 7 percentage points away from meeting that threshold.

The point is not that Obama will win the Latino vote -- it is a question of by how much. The difference could determine the election.

One study suggests the percentage of Latinos among eligible voters will include 37.9% in New Mexico, 16.5% in Florida, 14.2% in Nevada and 13.1% in Colorado -- all battleground states. Even states with smaller populations -- 4.6% in Virginia, 3.5% in Pennsylvania -- show larger numbers than the margin of victory in previous statewide races.

Which is why both candidates are aggressively courting Latino voters. When Univision anchor Salinas asked Romney if he was sure he was not Hispanic, given his father was born in Mexico, the Republican candidate said, laughing, "I think for political purposes, that might have helped me here."

Both the Republican and Democratic national conventions featured high-profile speaking roles for prominent Latinos -- Sen. Marco Rubio and Governor Susanna Martinez on the Republican side; San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who was the first Latino keynote speaker ever, and an illegal immigrant speaker Benita Veliz for Democrats.

Beyond politicians, the president also has an arsenal of famous Latino supporters including  Marc Anthony, Rosario Dawson, Ricky Martin, Antonio Banderas, Eva Longoria and Jessica Alba. Obama even appeared on a popular local Miami radio station with a Cuban-American host who calls  himself 'The Pimp with the Limp.'

On TV, Obama discusses Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor in Spanish language ads, with the president himself signing off with "soy Barack Obama y apruebo este mensaje." Romney's Spanish language ads have featured his bilingual son telling viewers his dad will seek a bipartisan solution to immigration reform.

And immigration reform will be one of the most important issues for Hispanics in 2012. During last week's forum, Ramos accused the president of breaking his 2008 promise of having an immigration bill within his first year of office.

"A promise is a promise," Ramos told the president. "And with all due respect, you didn't keep that promise."

Obama blamed Republicans for refusing to work with him.

"There's the thinking that the president is somebody who is all-powerful and can get everything done," Obama said. "We have to have cooperation from all these sources in order to get something done."

But Romney is the tougher sell to Latinos. On the position of immigration reform, he is arguably more conservative than any Republican nominee in recent memory -- more than Reagan and George H.W. Bush, who signed the 1987 immigration reform into law, or George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who supported the bill that failed in 2007.

Asked point blank by Univision moderators whether or not he would deport illegal immigrants, Romney tried to allay fears that there would be mass deportations.

"We're not going to round up people around the country and deport them," Romney replied. "I said time and again during our primary campaign, 'We're not going to round up 12 million, people that includes the kids and their parents, and have everyone deported.' "

Speaking of deportations, conservative groups are hammering the president for his deportation policy, airing ads in English and Spanish that call Obama the 'Deporter-in-Chief.'

But given the president's healthy lead on Romney, some Republicans suggest that the best thing to do is not push Romney on Latinos, but rather quell their excitement for Obama.

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