Dream Act students rallied outside Mitt Romney’s campaign speech in North Carolina on Wednesday, accusing him of forsaking Hispanic immigrants and vowing to make him pay in the November election — even as President Obama’s campaign announced its own outreach efforts to try to shore up his support among Hispanic voters.
The Obama campaign also launched its first set of Spanish-language ads, airing in Colorado, Nevada and Florida, that tout his expansion of federal funding for education.
The moves are designed to try to hold on to Hispanic voters, who backed Mr. Obama 67 percent to 31 percent over John McCain in 2008, and whom the president’s campaign deems critical to a repeat win this year. The campaign laid out a plan to get to that point by attacking Mr. Romney on his immigration stances, while highlighting the federal spending the president has directed at programs important to Hispanics.
“President Obama believes that when we prosper, that all of us must prosper and that we recognize all of us are in this together,” said San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, a national co-chairman of Mr. Obama’s re-election campaign. “Mitt Romney doesn’t believe that. His words and his actions make that clear.”
At stake is the fastest-growing bloc in American politics.
Both the Obama campaign and the Republican National Committee this week announced their plans for grass-roots outreach. Mr. Obama’s team said it will be trying to spread the word on the kinds of volunteer opportunities available for Hispanics to back his campaign, while the RNC said it will dispatch coordinators to six states as part of its Hispanic Outreach Program: Colorado, Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina and Virginia.
A Pew Research Center poll released Tuesday found Mr. Obama garnering support of 67 percent of Hispanic voters nationwide — the same as his total in the 2008 election. That percentage is second only to Mr. Obama’s 95 percent support among black voters in major demographic categories in the Pew survey.
Mr. Romney was supported by 27 percent of Hispanics surveyed.
Alberto Martinez, a Republican operative in Florida who works on Hispanic issues for Mr. Romney, said the polling represents a floor for Mr. Romney, who he said will only increase his share of Hispanic voters.
“Over the next several months, Hispanic voters will see a clear contrast between President Obama’s failed economic policies and Mitt Romney’s pro-growth, pro-jobs agenda,” Mr. Martinez said. “We are confident that Hispanic voters will be inspired by Mitt Romney and his positive vision to restore America’s promise and deliver what all Americans want: a strong, prosperous economy and opportunity for themselves and their families.”
Republicans say Mr. Romney has an easier task in crafting his appeal, arguing that his economic message works across ethnic lines.
Democrats say that for many Hispanic voters, immigration is a threshold issue and that Mr. Romney fails the test.
On the campaign trail, Mr. Romney has called some of Arizona’s immigration strict laws a “model” for other states and vowed to veto the Dream Act to give legal status to students and young adults in the country illegally. He has since said he would back a smaller version that would offer legal status to young adults who join the U.S. military.
Since Mr. Romney’s chief opponent for the GOP nomination, Rick Santorum, withdrew from the race, pundits have watched to see whether the now presumptive nominee changes his stance on immigration or distances himself from some of his supporters, including Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who were instrumental in enacting Arizona’s law.
There has been no sign of any break.
Some young adults who would benefit from the Dream Act have formed a loose network and have vowed to dog Mr. Romney along the campaign trail. Outside of the Republican’s campaign speech Wednesday, one of the protest organizers, Moises Serrano, said Mr. Romney’s compromise Dream Act isn’t enough.
“The youth here in my community … agreed we will not take any watered-down version of the Dream Act,” he said. “They’re trying to divide and conquer, and they are not going to divide the movement.”
Some Hispanic activists say Mr. Obama will have to answer for his own immigration record. During the 2008 campaign, he promised to win passage of an immigration legalization bill in his first year in office; instead, he focused on economic stimulus, health care and climate change.
Obama defenders said when the election is framed as a choice between Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney, the president will come out ahead on immigration for Hispanic voters.