Politics & Government

Obama sits with Univision today, tries to juice up Hispanic support

President Barack Obama has been running two reelection campaigns for months: One is in English, la otra es en español.

They collide today during an hour-long bilingual interview with Univision, the Spanish-language powerhouse broadcast network based in Doral. The interview, scheduled for 2 p.m. at the University of Miami, should be broadcast at 10 p.m.

Hispanic voters are a crucial segment of the electorate for Obama, who has a commanding lead over Mitt Romney among this fastest-growing demographic. Romney sat down for 35 minutes Wednesday with Univision.

But Obama’s lead might not be enough of an advantage to make up for his biggest electoral deficit among non-Hispanic white voters.

That’s according to numerous pollsters, including Miami’s Sergio Bendixen, who helped conduct surveys and cut Spanish-language ads for Obama — including a crucial spot that ran for a month touting the president’s health plan this summer while his English language campaign said relatively little about it.

In a presentation this month at the Democratic National Convention, Bendixen noted that Puerto Rican voters in Central Florida — a key Democratic voting bloc — aren’t enthused enough for Obama, whom they back by a 54-32 percent over Romney.

“We have to do better than that. We have to get that number up into the seventies,” Bendixen, who wouldn’t comment for this story, said at the DNC in Charlotte. “If we’re to hold Florida we have to do better among Puerto Ricans within the Orlando area.”

To gain more support, the Obama campaign is running an only-in-Florida Spanish-language spot that notes Obama nominated Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor — the self-described “wise Latina” pride of the Puerto Rican community — while Romney spoke against her nomination.

Bendixen’s reason that the campaign needs to do more ads like this: “slippage” among non-Hispanic white voters, who still comprise a majority of the Florida electorate. Hispanics account for 14 percent of the active voter rolls.

Non-Hispanic whites favor Romney over Obama by 55-40 percent. That’s a healthy lead, but it might not be comfortable enough for Romney, either, because the president has an overall inside-the-error margin lead over Romney in most Florida surveys.

Hispanics back Obama over Romney overall by about 51-37 percent, according to Bendixen’s poll of 500 Florida Hispanic voters.

Other Florida surveys of Hispanics have shown Obama doing better and Romney doing worse, but that’s partly attributable to the fact that they don’t survey enough in Spanish and poll enough Cuban-born voters, who overwhelmingly vote Republican and back Romney 56 percent to Obama’s 38 percent.

Because Cuban-Americans, who tend to vote Republican overall, account for more than a third of the Hispanic electorate in Florida, Obama’s lead among Hispanics is lower here when compared to other battleground states like Nevada or Colorado.

Cuban-Americans account for about 70 percent of the Republicans in Miami-Dade, the largest county in Florida.

The Romney campaign has made sure to kickstart its Hispanic outreach in high gear in South Florida. On Wednesday, after his Univision interview with Jorge Ramos and Maria Elena Salinas, Roney hosted a “ Juntos con Romney” Miami rally and sat for friendly interviews with conservative Cuban radio.

On Saturday, Romney’s vice-presidential running mate Paul Ryan is scheduled to visit Versailles Restaurant in the heart of the Cuban exile community.

Since Aug. 1, Romney has spent about $1.3 million on Spanish-language TV, while Obama has spent about $1 million. Prior to that, Obama and his allies spent more than $6.6 million while Romney and his side spent less than $1 million on Spanish-language ads.

“Florida is very winnable for Romney — assuming he doesn’t mess up — because of the shape of the economy,” said Jim McLaughlin, who tends to poll for Republicans in Florida. McLaughlin said that, unlike Ohio voters, Florida voters are deeply pessimistic about the economy, which hurts the incumbent.

Like Bendixen, McLaughlin noted that Obama needs to rely on higher turnout among Hispanics compared to 2008 because he’s slipping among non-Hispanic white voters.

Romney’s latest salvo: Spanish-language ads bashing Obama over his health care act.

But Obama might have outflanked Romney when it comes to health care. This summer, for more than a month, the Obama campaign ran a spot featuring former Spanish-language TV personality Cristina Saralegui, who talked up the benefits of the Affordable Healthcare Act.

The results: Hispanics favor so-called Obamacare 48-36 percent in Florida. Non-Hispanic whites tend to disfavor it, polls show.

Obama also receives favorable marks among Hispanics for his handling of immigration and for handling the economy — the top issue for Hispanics as well as the overall electorate.

But Romney has repeatedly noted in Spanish and English ads how bad the economy is under Obama. Hispanic poverty rates are higher than they are for non-Hispanic whites, as is the unemployment rate.

In some ways, Romney is borrowing the winning message of Bill Clinton in 1992. It sounds similar in Spanish and English: Es la economía, estúpido.