By Justin Sink - 09/17/12 08:43 PM EDT
Arguing the GOP is the “rightful home” for Hispanic voters, Mitt Romney on Monday blasted President Obama on the economy and accused him of playing politics on immigration.
“While national unemployment is 8.1 percent, Hispanic unemployment is over 10 percent. Over 2 million more Hispanics are living in poverty today than the day President Obama took office,” Romney said in a speech to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
“Despite his party having majorities in both houses of Congress — supermajorities — the president never even offered up a bill,” Romney said. “Like so many issues confronting our nation, when it comes to immigration, politics has been put ahead of people for far too long.”
Romney's campaign is making a new push to target Latino voters. In addition to his appearance at the Hispanic Chamber, the presidential candidate sat for interviews Monday with Spanish-language networks Telemundo and Univision.
The Republican is aiming to carry at least 38 percent of the Hispanic vote in November, but a poll released Monday by Latino Decisions found the candidate pulling just 26 percent of Hispanics and trailing Obama by 42 percentage points.
Overall, Obama appears to have opened up a small, yet significant lead in national and swing-state polls that has worried some Republicans. In a conference call earlier Monday, Romney aides promised that the candidate would get more specific and offer policy details that would help voters better understand his plan for the nation.
The candidate offered some specifics in his address by previewing a series of budgetary commitments he would like to put in place.
“I will look to sharply increase the productivity of Washington by reducing federal government employment by 10 percent through attrition, by combining agencies and departments to reduce overhead, by cracking down on the $115 billion a year in improper payments in government programs, and by aligning government compensation with that of the private sector,” Romney said.
More generally, Romney promised to reduce the nation’s deficit by $500 billion while creating 12 million new jobs.
But the Republican hopeful did not name specific departments that might be eliminated, nor did he outline deductions in the tax code that he would get rid of to achieve deficit reduction and lower tax rates.
Romney’s challenge in winning over Hispanics was evident in a muted crowd response.
Applause for Romney was at least equal to — if not surpassed by — the reaction to a video message from Obama that played shortly before Romney took the stage.
Obama received loud applause while discussing his “deferred action” program that allows certain illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children to remain in the country. Obama’s decision to not enforce the deportation of these illegal immigrants has boosted his position with Hispanics.
Obama depicted the election as “a choice between policies that would build on this progress, or policies that would reverse it.”
Romney said the deportation decision was about politics and not finding solutions to the nation’s immigration issues.
He pledged to work with both sides of the aisle to “permanently fix our immigration system,” and said his administration would target border security and reforms to the temporary worker visa program.
“I want to make the system far more simple and transparent. You shouldn't have to hire lawyers to find out how to legally immigrate to the United States,” Romney said to applause. “And by the way, if someone gets an advanced degree, I want them to stay here, so I'd staple a green card to their diploma.”
The Obama campaign, responding to the push by Romney, released a new Web video Monday using the popular “Extreme Makeover” TV show to poke fun at the Republican.
“As Romney embarks on a new push with Hispanic voters this week, beginning with a speech in front of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, viewers will watch with great anticipation to see — with only a few weeks left — if the Republican candidate can overhaul his positions and slow his sharply declining popularity in the Latino community," said the campaign in a statement.
“Romney’s extreme policies are simply wrong for Latinos, so he’s hoping an extreme makeover will do the trick,” the ad said.