This article was originally posted on Voxxi, “an independent voice for Hispanic America.”
For Latinos interested in seeing how the candidates would respond to a question on immigration, the difference seemed clear in last night’s presidential debate, although analysts say the Latino vote continues to be at play. Mitt Romney’s use of the term “undocumented illegals” signaled the wrong tone to use, advocates claimed. They were quick to point that he might have written off many Latinos just by the choice of his words. When Lorraine Rosario asked the contenders what they plan to do with immigrants without a green card, Romney made his case, but wanted to clarify his stance on self-deportation.
“We’re not going to round up 12 million people, ‘undocumented illegals’, and take them out of the nation. Instead, let them make their own choice,” Romney said.
Immigration and Latino vote
Jose Antonio Vargas, a former Washington Post reporter who declared his undocumented status and has become an ardent advocate on immigration, said he was glad that the question finally surfaced. Even though they’ve heard the exact same answer from President Barack Obama in numerous settings, he predicted that Romney would be the one who would eventually suffer.
“I think he couldn’t really explain his self-deportation policy and that he still thinks providing any sort of reform is amnesty,” said Vargas. “Mitt Romney’s inability to understand the complex nature of immigration—I think that’s going to cost him the election.”
“If Obama wins it’s going to be on the back of the Latino vote. If Romney loses it’s going to be because of the Latino vote.”
The enthusiasm factor is also a contested issue in this election. Speculation has surfaced on whether or not Latinos are inspired to turn out in November this time around.
Juan Andrade, who heads the Hispanic United States Hispanic Leadership Institute, a non-partisan organization nationally recognized for its voter registration efforts, asserted that it is still the case and mentioned that the president needed to deliver a strong performance to keep them engaged.
After the debate, several political analysts pointed that Obama got the upper hand in some of the points and faltered in others. When it came to immigration, Andrade said Obama out-did Romney on that issue.
Yet, in general, it wasn’t “a knock out” punch, he claimed.
“It’s certainly much better than in Denver. It wasn’t quite the ‘knock out’ punch that would have put the game away,” said Andrade. “Romney didn’t have to win. He just had to do it. He managed that because 30 percent said that Romney won, but 33 percent that it was a tie.”
He said if the president had done better in Denver the fight would have been over.
“It’s going to go all the way now,” he said.
Latino vote will determine this election
Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, believes it’s also a draw. If anything, he said it does energize the Democratic base, but in terms of the Latino vote the economy has become the prevailing issue.
“I think at the end the debate is going to have very little impact,” said Aguilar. “To win a debate you really have to obliterate your opponent—but, when it’s so close even if the president has a slight edge at the end it really makes no difference.”
On immigration, he said Romney’s answer wasn’t great. He could have provided more specifics on his support for a version on the DREAM Act, even though he reminded the audience that Obama did not keep his promise.
On many other issues including overregulation and taxation and its burden on small businesses, Aguilar would argue that Romney got the upper hand.
Still, that depends on how Latinos perceive it. Andrade said Romney did not give an alternative for Latino moderates and particularly in the interest of immigration reform.
“Romney could not pin down the president on how horrible it was because the president spent his time defining Romney and his views on the issue of immigration,” said Andrade.”Because Romney did not offer an alternative those Latinos who are disappointed in Obama have nowhere to go.”
“They either stay with Obama or do not vote for either Obama or Romney.”
Fi2W is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation.