CHARLOTTE, North Carolina – Barack Obama has made history in stadiums. In 2008, he accepted his party’s presidential nomination at Invesco Stadium in Denver, CO, with the promise of change. This week, he will accept the nomination for a second term at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, asking the country to let him continue “Forward.” On many issues, change hasn’t yet come—but give Obama another four years, he promises, and he’ll take care of the leftover items on his to-do list.
And stadiums full of voters is what Obama will need to win re-election; polls predict that the race between him and challenger Mitt Romney will be very close.
The economy continues to be Obama’s Achilles heel—even though Romney’s economic plan doesn’t appear to be convincing voters who are already skeptical of the Republican, as is the case with Latino voters. Even with one of the highest unemployment rates of any group in the country, Latinos don’t seem receptive to Romney’s economic message—evidence that anti-immigrant and anti-Hispanic rhetoric from Republicans has made a deep impression on Latino voters. Nonetheless, this week’s Latino Decisions/Impremedia tracking poll shows that after the Republican convention in Tampa, Romney and his party are making baby steps forward with Latino voters on the economic issue. Thirty percent of Latino voters selected Romney and the Republicans as the party they trust to fix the economy—a record for this cycle in the tracking poll, but not yet the level of support the party needs.
Obama has retained the sympathy and support of Latino voters despite their high unemployment rate (which the present Administration continues to attribute to the policies of Obama’s Republican predecessor, George W. Bush). And Hispanics continue to support Obama despite his inability to pass the immigration reform he promised in 2008; despite breaking deportation records; and despite his expansion of controversial immigration programs involving collaboration between the federal government and state and local police. His granting of deferred action to DREAMers appears to be generating enthusiasm among Latino voters—but no one will know how deep that enthusiasm really goes until November 6th.
Obama’s record is mixed. The message of hope and change, which reverberated throughout the country in 2008 and mobilized voters of all kinds—youth, minorities, women, independents—is behind us now.
This time around, his record is likely to motivate some and depress others. It’s not enough to point the blame at the previous Administration, and make new promises left and right. Now, Obama has to explain exactly why voters should send him back to the White House. He has to mobilize not only the base who chose him, and who apparently continues to give him the benefit of the doubt—although mobilizing them poses its own challenge. He also has to consider independents, who need more specific reasons not to vote for Romney or simply to stay at home.
To Latino voters, Obama can point to achievements on many fronts—particularly health care reform, which will benefit them as one of the groups most likely to be uninsured; advancements in education programs; policies to aid and expand small businesses; and tax cuts and credits which put more money in families’ pockets.
But those Latino voters will still want to hear what he’ll do to create the jobs to alleviate their greater-than-10% unemployment rate.
They’ll also want to know if immigration reform will be a realistic prospect in the president’s second term. Obama can continue to argue that it will depend on the Republican support that was so obviously lacking in his first term, but he should know this: if he is reelected with broad Hispanic support, and his second term passes without concrete legislative action on immigration, it could have negative consequences for the Democrats in the long run. If he’s reelected with Hispanic support, without feeling electoral pressure for 2016, will he go for a legislative solution to the immigration issue or continue the administrative model, expanding Deferred Action for other groups of immigrants?
But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, he has to be reelected to begin with.
After Thursday, Obama will have two months to rekindle the passion voters once felt.