Romney has plenty of ground to make up after a bruising primary season filled with tough rhetoric that even Republicans acknowledge turned off many Hispanics. He recently established a Hispanic advisory group that includes top elected Republican Hispanics.
During the primaries, the former Massachusetts governor pledged to veto legislation, known as the DREAM Act, that would give a path to citizenship to young immigrants who came to the United States illegally as children but have since attended school or served in the military. He has since toned down his anti-immigration stance, which included self-deportation, telling a Hispanic leadership gathering in the Orlando area that he would address illegal immigration "in a civil but resolute manner."
Alexandra Franceschi, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee's Hispanic effort, made clear that the GOP outreach will focus broadly on the economy. "Hispanics are Americans and are facing the same issues as everyone else, chronically high unemployment, lower pay and rising health care costs," she said.
Republicans have noted that under Obama, the Hispanic unemployment rate is higher than the national average. And Hispanics' median household income fell 7 percent between 2000 and 2010, from $43,100 to $40,000, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
What drives Hispanics to vote depends on who's asked.
Lopez, a 20-year-old new citizen and college student from Colombia, cites Obama's policy shift on deportation as reason she's likely to pick him when she casts her first vote in the country.
"The issue didn't directly affect me, but I have many family members and friends who it did," she said.
In Arizona, Gomez, a 43-year-old priest who immigrated to Phoenix 15 years ago, backed Obama's policy change. But Gomez says immigration isn't his priority because "immigrants will continue coming across the border no matter what we do." He says he's voting for Romney because, like him, the Republican opposes gay marriage and abortion rights.
In Albuquerque, Maestas, a 37-year-old mother and office manager, is focused intently on pocketbook issues. Immigration, she says, is only important to "a certain point" because "If you can't take care of your own, how are you going to take care of others?"
Associated Press writers Laura Wides-Munoz in Miami, Kristen Wyatt in Denver and Amanda Lee Myers in Phoenix contributed to this report.
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