Haraz N. Ghanbari, Associated Press
BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — President Barack Obama is courting Hispanics in politically important states, setting himself up as a champion of the crucial Latino voting bloc and as a foil to Republican candidates fighting for a share of support from the same groups.
With Latino voters voting overwhelmingly Democratic, Obama is not in danger of losing the support of a majority of Hispanics. But he does need their intensity, and a Gallup tracking poll shows that while a majority of Hispanics approve of Obama, that approval is not as high as it is among black voters.
Pitching his economic agenda during a three-day, five-state trip this week, Obama has not ignored the fact that three of the states — Nevada, Arizona and Colorado — all have Hispanic populations of 20 percent or more. A majority of them are Democratic, but they also could be a factor in upcoming nominating contests in those states. Nevada and Colorado hold caucuses within two weeks and Arizona has a primary Feb. 28.
In Arizona Wednesday, where he was drawing attention to his efforts to increase manufacturing, Obama playfully interacted with a supporter who shouted out: "Barack es mi hermano! (Barack is my brother!)"
"Mi hermano — mucho gusto (My brother, a real pleasure)," Obama shouted back.
And it was no accident that he scheduled an interview with Univision, the Spanish language network that reaches a broad swath of the U.S. Latino population, while he was in Arizona and with local Telemundo affiliates Thursday in Las Vegas and in Denver. All that while former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and the rest of the Republican presidential field were battling in Florida, another state with a key Latino voting bloc.
"It's an important community in this country and he will continue to have those interactions," White House spokesman Jay Carney said of Obama's efforts to reach out to Spanish language media.
No issue reverberates more in the appeal to Latinos than immigration.
For Obama, it reared up suddenly for him Wednesday when Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican who signed one of the toughest laws to curtail illegal immigration, greeted him at the airport tarmac in Mesa, Ariz., with a handwritten invitation for the president to join her in a visit to the Mexican border.
Obama replied coolly, noting that he did not appreciate the way she had depicted him in a book she published last year, "Scorpions for Breakfast." In the book, Brewer writes that Obama was condescending and lectured her during a meeting at the White House to discuss immigration. "He was a little disturbed about my book," Brewer told two reporters shortly after the encounter.
Obama continued to promote his economic plan Thursday in Nevada and Colorado, focusing on energy policy and his attempts to expand oil and gas exploration while also emphasizing clean energy.
"Doubling down on a clean energy industry will create lots of jobs in the process," the president said at Buckley Air Force Base in Colorado, where the Air Force has installed solar panels and tested jets that run on biofuels.
As such, he was indirectly pitching to Hispanics as well. A new Pew Research Center poll found that 54 percent of Latinos believe that the economic downturn has been harder on them than on other groups in the U.S.
"There is no question that Latinos were hard hit, especially by the bursting of the housing bubble and the resulting steep decline in construction work," Carney said Thursday. "Latinos are overrepresented in the construction industry. It's one of the reasons why, certainly, Latinos would greatly benefit from infrastructure investments that put construction workers back to work."
In 2008, Obama beat Republican John McCain by a 2-1 margin among Hispanics.
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