The event was part of broader efforts by the White House and Obama’s reelection campaign to rekindle excitement among Hispanic voters, many of whom have turned their backs on the president amid disappointment over his immigration policies. Key to the strategy is shifting voters’ attention beyond the caustic immigration debate with data-driven appeals that show progress in other areas, while arguing that Obama is better on immigration than any of his potential Republican foes.
The tensions — and the administration’s aggressive efforts to soothe them — reached a climax of sorts in a flurry of activity last week, with the administration making a surprise announcement Thursday that it was giving officials discretion to suspend certain deportation cases that have drawn fire from critics, such as ones involving young people brought to the country in early childhood.
The White House move came two days after immigrant advocates delivered tens of thousands of petitions to Obama’s reelection headquarters and other Democratic Party offices demanding an end to the administration’s aggressive deportation policy.
Adding to Democrats’ anxiety are signs that Republicans are trying to take advantage of the strain between Obama and Hispanics.
Crossroads GPS, the pro-GOP group advised by Karl Rove, saturated Spanish-language airwaves in key states last month with ads blasting Obama’s record. And one of the party’s presidential front-runners, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, brings a history of courting Hispanic voters. He even backed a law granting in-state college tuition for many children of illegal immigrants.
The White House outreach strategy underscores the quandary facing Obama and his aides, who are struggling to keep their hold on a voter bloc that was a key piece of the president’s 2008 coalition of minorities, young people and white liberals and is expected to play an even greater role in deciding his reelection.
Administration officials announced last week that they would host Hispanic policy conferences in cities across the country. Some will be in key political battlegrounds — with the first to take place this month in Orlando, home to a large Puerto Rican community that is a prime target for the campaign’s early voter registration efforts.
“I understand the pain that our community is going through,” said Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis, who is hosting policy roundtables with Hispanic activists across the country as a top White House liaison to the community. But, she added, “I think it’s amazing how little people know of the good things that this administration has done.”