ORLANDO, Fla. -- Hispanic voters are poised this year to be the swing votes for president in many of the nation's swing states. They're expected to vote in big numbers again for President Barack Obama, and their numbers are growing. In Colorado, Nevada, Florida, North Carolina and Virginia, they very well could determine whether Obama wins another term or is succeeded by Republican Mitt Romney.
If they turn out.
"The president has consistently had broad voter support. The question was enthusiasm," said Matt Barreto, a co-founder of Latino Decisions, which studies Hispanic voting behavior. That may be why Obama has vaulted immigration to the forefront of the 2012 campaign, at least for the moment. His announcement Friday that the government will stop deporting thousands of young undocumented workers was a jolt of fresh energy for Hispanic voters. The president hopes to continue the momentum this Friday, when he addresses the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials in Orlando.
Romney, who'll speak today at the group's convention, has a tougher task. This year, he urged illegal immigrants to engage in "self-deportation" and said he would have opposed Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the nation's first Hispanic justice, nominated by Obama.
Barreto's swing state poll last week showed enthusiasm for Obama growing among Latino voters. The president won the Hispanic vote in 2008 by 67 to 31 percent, exit polls found, and he's in position to put up similar margins this time.
Whether he can sustain enough passion to get more people to show up at the polls is the open question, however.
"People are concerned about the economy, and Romney talks a lot about job creation," said Angeline Echeverria, executive director of El Pueblo, a nonpartisan community organization in Raleigh, N.C. "He talks about things that might resonate."
Latino turnout has been lower than that of Anglos or blacks in recent presidential elections, partly because of the same factors that dampen turnout in the general population: The Hispanic population tends to be younger and less wealthy.
Obama's camp is confident. "Mitt Romney is on the wrong side of every issue important to Hispanics," said Gabriela Domenzain, the Obama's campaign's director of Hispanic press.
The Romney campaign fired back.
"The challenges Mitt Romney faces have been exaggerated by the Obama campaign," said Alberto Martinez, a Tallahassee-based Romney adviser, "and the president's support has been exaggerated."