By Jordy Yager - 06/16/12 10:00 AM EDT
President Obama laid his chips down in a major election-year gamble this week that could help make or break his re-election bid for the White House.
In a dead heat with Republican Mitt Romney, Obama has struggled in recent weeks, suffering a number of setbacks, and losing much of the news cycle momentum that carried him to Pennsylvania Ave. more than three years ago.
But with Friday’s announcement that his administration would not deport certain young people who are in the country illegally, Obama threw down his chips, partially fulfilling a campaign promise he made to Latinos in his bid to be president, and putting Romney and Republican congressional hopefuls in a bind.
Obama is actively grinding to hold onto the 67 percent of Latinos who voted for him in 2008, while he has battled an increasingly vocal tide of Latino advocacy groups who have not been timid in voicing their disapproval of his inability to pass comprehensive immigration reform or the DREAM Act.
The grand move on Friday was one in a series of steps Obama has taken recently in an effort to galvanize his liberal base, including his public endorsement of marriage equality aimed at gay-rights advocates and his decision to require religious organizations to grant their employees’ access to birth control in a nod to pro-choice supporters.
The political payoff of the new immigration policy could be huge, according to some experts, who cite the large Latino populations in key electoral states, such as Florida, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, and Virginia.
But it could also backfire for Obama among demographics that worry greatly about illegal immigrants taking job opportunities away from people in the country legally. The White House said it expects about 800,000 young illegal immigrants to take part in its new policy to gain temporary worker status.
“It's a medium risk, high reward strategy,” said Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons.
“I think you risk angering people who are upset about immigration, yes. But for a president who’s got to win Florida, Nevada, Colorado, it is definitely something that can give the Latino community something to rally around.”
The news of the policy shift threatened to take the wind out of Romney’s sails as he began a greatly hyped five-day, six-state bus tour on Friday and took to blasting Obama for being “detached” and “distant” while making no mention of the president's announcement.
But Republicans on Capitol Hill easily made up for any silence from Romney’s camp, with top-ranking GOP lawmakers relentlessly blasting the decision. Some called it unconstitutional, while Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a member of the Tea Party, promised to sue the administration for circumventing Congress’s authority.
Anticipating the blowback, the White House lost no time in conducting a full-court press on the issue as it launched Democratic lawmakers, staffers, and operatives across the country to spread the president’s message of what the new policy entails.
More than two-dozen senior administration officials are scheduled to hold an all-day White House Hispanic Community Action Summit in Maryland on Saturday where they will join Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) in laying out the details of the new policy.
And Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), one of Obama’s most influential supporters in the Latino community and chairman of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, immediately went to the mats for the president as he announced plans to hold an information session on Monday to help immigrants in Chicago understand the details of the new policy.
Meanwhile, Obama campaign press secretary Ben LaBolt shot out an email aimed at painting a large divide between Romney and Obama just hours after the president addressed reporters in the Rose Garden.
“During the primaries, Gov. Romney called the DREAM Act a handout and said he would veto it,” LaBolt said in a statement. “Today he continues to refuse to express support for legislation that lets children who were brought to the U.S. and want to contribute by pursuing higher education or serving in the military stay in America.”