After several weeks of miscues that had former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney surging in the polls, President Barack Obama tried to slow the slide last Friday by invoking presidential powers to halt the deportation of some illegal immigrants.
Early on, it seems to have been a hit with the American people, who favor the move 64-30, according to Bloomberg polling. And it will force Romney to answer some difficult questions—as he attempted to last Sunday on CBS News's Face The Nation .
In the end, though, the decision will fit on the president's shelf of accomplishments somewhere near the killing of Osama bin Laden—a nice feather in his cap but one unlikely to sway the electoral outcome to any great degree.
For one thing, Latinos seem curiously unimpressed. Asked whether they were more likely to support the president because of this policy, 49 percent said yes and 48 percent no. They rate immigration fourth on a list of 10 issues they care about most. And, although two thirds of Latino registered voters identify as Democrats, they remain ambivalent about Obama, who has deported more immigrants than any president since the 1950s.
Moreover, the move could hurt Obama with white voters—particularly those without college degrees. President Obama is in office today because so many of them turned away from Sen. John McCain in the 2008 election. President Obama has lost five points overall from where he stood in pre-election polling four years ago. White voters—who still make up nearly three fourths of the electorate—account for this decline.
Also, the move could be a little too perfect. It's a nice balance—humane treatment of young immigrants who didn't make the decision to violate our laws, but no path to citizenship, a reprieve of only two years and requirements they pay taxes and obtain a card that will have their photos and fingerprints on it. Voters may conclude the problem is solved—regardless of his stammering last Sunday; Romney is unlikely to change this if elected—and move on.
Electorally, the move could help Obama "at the margin," according to Nate Silver of The New York Times, particularly in Colorado, where 13 percent of voters are Latino, and Nevada, where 15 percent are. But Texas and California, which account for almost 40 percent of Latino voters nationwide, are unlikely to turn over this issue, and Florida's Latino population is largely Cuban-American and thus won't be swayed much by this reform.
It may seem as if Romney is in a box. He can't cede the 15 electoral votes of Nevada and Colorado to President Obama, nor can he afford to endanger his growing white working-class support in Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
But in reality, Romney now has an option he didn't have two weeks ago—he can take the wait-and-see approach. How that strategy pans out could very well determine who sits is in the Oval Office in 2013.