By Jonathan Easley - 06/16/12 11:30 AM EDT
President Obama’s decision to change his administration's deportation policies comes at a key time in the presidential campaign — just as Mitt Romney appeared to be narrowing the gap with the president in some swing states where Hispanic voters hold significant sway.
Only two months ago Colorado looked like a lock for Obama. He led Romney by 13 percent in a Public Policy Polling survey from early April, and Romney had just lost the Colorado Republican caucuses to Rick Santorum. However, the three most recent Colorado polls show the candidates in a statistical tie.
Obama’s lead in Virginia, another state where Hispanics could be key, has been cut in half, from 6 to 3, according to the RCP average.
The president’s announcement on Friday that his administration will stop deporting illegal immigrants who come to the country at a young age could help the president regain his momentum in all of these states in addition to New Mexico and Florida, which all have large and growing Hispanic populations.
The Obama campaign seemed to notice the president’s loosening grip on these battleground states, and dispatched Michelle ObamaMichelle ObamaThe Trail 2016: Comeback in the works? If Hillary wins, she should serve one term and move on Arizona and Georgia: Not swing states — yet MORE to headline rallies in Colorado and Nevada next week.
“The Hispanic vote is critical in Nevada,” a Democratic strategist told The Hill. “This is another example that shows Obama gets it and Romney doesn’t. Romney said he would veto the DREAM Act and that doesn’t play well here, so this is another data point that Hispanics can point to.”
After Friday’s announcement, Romney offered support for easing deportations but said he believed the decision could make it more difficult to win immigration reform.
“I believe the status of young people who come here through no fault of their own is an important matter to be considered and should be solved on a long-term basis so they know what their future would be in this country,” Romney said at a campaign stop in New Hampshire.
Obama already had a massive lead among Hispanics, leading Romney by 34 percent, 61 to 27, in a NBC News-Wall Street Journal-Telemundo poll released late last month.
Even if Obama has hit a ceiling with Hispanic support, the policy change could help rally Hispanic voters to the polls in an election where voter turnout could decide the results in several states.
The decision also has the potential to help Obama with younger voters. The action ordered by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano would affect illegal immigrants younger than 30 who were brought to the U.S. before they were 16 years old.
“I think that it’s certainly an important factor for progressives and Latinos,” the strategist continued. “But mostly this is something that the Hispanic community can grab on to that shows the clear difference between the candidates.”
There are 12 battleground states —Michigan, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico and New Hampshire — that Obama won in 2008 that will be critical in determining the outcome of the 2012 election.
Obama and Romney are locked in a dead heat in Florida, the quintessential battleground state with the largest Hispanic population of all the swing states, and Obama leads big in New Mexico, a southwestern state where Hispanics helped propel him to a 15 point victory over Sen. John McCainJohn McCainCruz: Precedent exists for keeping Supreme Court short-staffed Trump promises ‘new deal for Black America’ Endangered GOP senator: I don't know for whom I'll vote MORE (R-Ariz.) of neighboring Arizona in 2008.
Some of the other states, such as Nevada, Colorado and Virginia, only recently became swing states following Obama’s historic 2008 campaign, making the president’s grip tenuous even before the polls tightened.
But if the administration’s turn on immigration rallies the Democratic base and adds to the president’s considerable cushion among Hispanics, the Obama campaign might consider allocating resources to a state that has only gone to a Democratic candidate once since 1948.
“I think Arizona was in play [for Obama] even before this announcement,” the strategist said. “In any state with a large Hispanic population, the choice couldn’t be more clear.”