The presidential election may be decided by the Hispanic vote and whether President Obama can persuade enough of his Latino supporters to turn out at the polls for him on November 6.
"The presidential election is resting on Hispanic turnout and margins," Republican pollster Bill McInturff told me. Obama has built up a lead of about 40 to 45 points among Hispanics, according to various polls, but it's unclear whether he can mobilize them to get out and vote in sufficient numbers. GOP strategists say Hispanics have been particularly hard hit by the economic downturn and their enthusiasm for Obama has waned.
But Jim Messina, Obama's campaign manager, told reporters in a conference call Tuesday that Team Obama has built a vast grass-roots organization to turn out its vote, including special appeals to Hispanics. He said the GOP is wrong to assume that Latino turnout will be far lower than it was in 2008, when Hispanics were a key constituency underlying Obama's victory. David Axelrod, Obama's chief campaign strategist, added that, "This a race we've prepared for," and the president's organizers have been working for many months to encourage turnout among various Obama constituencies, including Hispanics, African Americans, and young people.
Democratic strategists say Romney badly hurt himself during the GOP primaries by taking a hard-line stance on illegal immigration that offended many Hispanics. In contrast, Obama increased and solidified his Latino support by authorizing an executive action allowing young people who were brought to the United States illegally by their parents to have a path to legal residency.
Hispanics could make the difference in battleground states including Colorado, Nevada, North Carolina, and Virginia. Nationally, 11 per cent of the electorate is Hispanic, an increase from 9.5 per cent in 2008.
If Republican challenger Mitt Romney can't move many Hispanics in his direction, he will have to make up for it by rolling up a huge majority among white voters. Strategists for both major parties say Romney will need at least 61 per cent of the white vote in order to win; he has about 57 or 58 per cent of the white vote now, polls indicate.
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Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog, "Ken Walsh's Washington," and is the author of "The Presidency" column for usnews.com. He is the author of five books, including "Family of Freedom: Presidents and African Americans in the White House." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Facebook and Twitter.