President Barack Obama pulled no punches during his speech in front of top Latino politicians Friday, going hard after his Republican presidential rival Mitt Romney and standing behind the work his own administration has done on behalf of the Hispanic community.
The speech, which will be compared closely with Romney’s own before the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) on Thursday, aimed to rally support from one of the key voting demographics that Obama needs to vote in November in order to secure a second term.
While Romney used the opportunity to walk back the confrontational language he used surrounding immigration during his contested primary, Obama sought to remind voters of his opponent’s position.
“[Romney] has promised to veto the DREAM Act and we should take him at his word,” Obama said, referring to legislation that would create a path to citizenship for some young people brought to the country illegally through no fault of their own. When the audience met the line with some laughter, Obama added, “I’m just saying.”
The president also turned aside criticism that his announcement last week that the administration would temporarily defer deportations of the same group of young illegal immigrants was purely political or complicated the issue from being permanently resolved.
“I refused to keep looking innocent young people in the eye, deserving young people in the eye, and tell them, ‘tough luck,’” he said. “To those who are saying Congress should be the one to fix this? Absolutely. My door’s been open for 3 ½ years. They know where to find me.”
The last comment indirectly referenced Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio, who was working on his own version of the DREAM act until the president derailed it by essentially co-opting his not-yet-unveiled proposal. Rubio, a first-year lawmaker, complained the president didn’t consult him before taking action last week.
Obama took the opportunity to highlight other accomplishments on a variety of issues, from healthcare to education. But he also took on a campaign-like tone, at times raising his voice in making a passionate re-election pitch.
“We’re not done yet. We’ve got more to do,” Obama said.
Agreeing with Romney, who on Thursday said the election would be about the future of America, Obama said, “No matter who you are … this is a place where you can make it if you try.”
“Nobody personifies these American values, these American traits more than the Latino community,” Obama said. “That’s the essence of who you are. All we ask for is that hard work pays off. That responsibility is rewarded. I ran for this office because for more than a decade that dream had been slipping away from too many Americans.”
The back-to-back speeches from the two men vying for the White House provided a unique preview of their messages and ability to convey them, both to the audience in the room and across the country. Romney is banking on the fact that Hispanics, and all Americans, are so worn down by the lethargic economy that even though they “like” Obama, they are ready for a change.Obama, meanwhile, hopes to remind voters of what he’s done and is doubling down that the path he’s forging ahead on is the one Americans want.