With last week's job report showing Hispanic unemployment on the rise, Republicans see a chance to draw voters from a group that voted overwhelmingly for President Obama in 2008.
It remains uncertain, however, whether presumptive nominee Mitt Romney, who staked out a position at the right of his Republican rivals on immigration, can exploit it, analysts say.
The Hispanic unemployment rate jumped from 10.3% in April to 11% in May as the economy added only 69,000 jobs, the Labor Department reported. The disappointing job numbers come as Hispanic voters -- who voted by 67%-31% for Obama in 2008 -- are showing signs of diminished enthusiasm about the November election.
On a scale of 1 to 10, 65% of Hispanics put their propensity to vote at 10, according to the Gallup daily tracking poll from May 7 to May 27. By comparison, 82% of white voters and 75% of African-American voters offered a similar level of enthusiasm about the election, according to the poll.
"President Obama cashed in on the favorability capital that the Democratic Party has been developing over the longest time and the damaged brand that has hurt the Republican Party," said Daniel Garza, executive director of the Libre Initiative, a conservative Hispanic business organization. "I think we're getting to a point where you have to show results, not just rhetoric. Hispanics are just waking up to that."
Obama still holds a commanding 65%-25% lead with Hispanics over Romney, but political analysts say Obama has reason to worry that a lackluster job situation could dampen Hispanic turnout in November.
Hispanic unemployment is projected to remain above 10% through 2012 in 14 states -- including the battleground states of Colorado, Florida, Nevada and Pennsylvania, according to the liberal Economic Policy Institute in Washington.
"We're not going to have a scenario where (Hispanic) Obama supporters switch sides, but we could have a scenario where they get dispirited," said Gary Segura, a partner with the polling company Latino Decisions and a political scientist at Stanford University.
It is unclear how much emphasis Obama will place on trying to contrast his views with Romney's on immigration.
Last year, Romney said if Congress passed the DREAM Act -- a proposal that sets a path for young illegal immigrants to win citizenship if they attend college or serve in the military -- he would veto it.
"Hispanics know that the president is committed to comprehensive immigration reform and to the DREAM Act and that only by exercising their right to vote in November will these sensible proposals become laws," said Gabriela Domenzain, an Obama campaign spokeswoman.
The president's ability to attack Romney on his immigration policy is somewhat complicated by his own record, Segura said.
Obama has overseen a record number of deportations of illegal immigrants during his presidency.
A Pew Hispanic Center poll released in December found that Latinos disapprove of the Obama administration's deportation policy 59%-27%.
"He's lost the ability to bring up the topic without action," Segura said. "But a bolder move, such as stopping deportations of DREAM-eligible kids -- which he could do with executive action -- that would shift the conversation and energize Hispanics. And every day that Mitt Romney spends not talking about the economy is a good day for Obama."
"It is abundantly clear that President Obama hasn't lived up to the promises he made in 2008 and that his failed economic policies are disproportionately hurting Hispanics," Republican National Committee spokeswoman Alexandra Franceschi said. "With Gov. Romney in the White House, we will see a leader that has the business experience to put Hispanics back to work."
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