He received a friendly reception from NALEO, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. But Obama, who spoke Friday, got a jubilant one.
Romney's comments during the GOP primaries are creating serious obstacles for him now. He promised to veto a proposal that would provide a path to citizenship for young Latinos brought here illegally as children, and he said he wouldn't have voted to confirm the woman who became the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice.
"Running an ad that says, 'I would never vote for Sonia Sotomayor,' 'I would veto the DREAM Act' -- those are really easy things to crystallize and repeat," says Sylvia Manzano, a political scientist at Texas A&M University who studies Hispanic politics.
A generational shift?
The USA TODAY Poll's findings offer encouragement for Republicans down the road. Among second-generation Latinos -- that is, those whose parents were born in the United States -- attitudes about the role of government shift significantly and openness to conservative policies expand.
That doesn't mean Republicans are guaranteed to gain Hispanic support over time, but it does mean there will be more opportunities for them to do so. That raises questions about the argument by some analysts that the nation's changing demographics all but ensure Democratic majorities in the future.
Consider: On a list of a half-dozen issues, Latino registered voters who immigrated to the U.S. themselves rate immigration policies, a particular sore point with the GOP, as their highest priority. Latinos whose parents were born here rank immigration last.
Parker Maldonado, 43, a financial adviser from Goddard, Kan., who was called in the poll, is more concerned about pocketbook issues and argues that other Hispanics should be, too. His grandmother came from Puerto Rico and his grandfather emigrated from Spain. "Immigration is not going to mean anything if our economy doesn't improve," he says.
Asked about the issues most important to him, Joel Gomez, 31, who emigrated from Mexico 10 years ago, praises Obama's recent step for young Hispanics. "That's a relief for Latinos," says the Maryland construction worker, who was surveyed in Spanish. "We can walk without fear through the streets."
Gomez, who became a U.S. citizen three years ago, is inclined to cast his first presidential vote for Obama. Maldonado says he is likely to vote for Romney.
In the USA TODAY survey, Latino registered voters who immigrated say by almost 5-to-1 that the government should do more to solve our country's problems (a generally liberal view) rather than saying the government is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses (a generally conservative view).
Among registered Hispanic voters who are the U.S.-born children of immigrants, that ratio narrows to nearly 2-1.
And among those whose parents were born in the U.S., the split is about even.
The findings are based on a nationwide poll of 1,753 Hispanic adults, including 1,005 registered voters, taken in English and Spanish from April 16 to May 31. The margin of error is +/- 3 percentage points for the full sample and +/- 4 for registered voters only. The poll was supplemented by a survey Wednesday through Saturday of 424 Hispanics.
Obama scores a wide lead among all three Hispanic groups, supported by 72 percent of Latino registered voters who immigrated themselves and by 69% of those with at least one immigrant parent. Among those whose parents were born in the USA, 58 percent support the president.
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