President Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney (Getty Images)

Analysis: At first Presidential debate, Obama and Romney have some explaining to do

The debates this Wednesday in Denver, Colorado are an opportunity for the candidates to reintroduce themselves to the public, including millions of Hispanic voters.  The latest polling from Latino Decisions shows that the top issues for Latinos are jobs and the economy, immigration, education, and health care.  Let’s review what each candidate needs to say in order to win over Hispanics.

With polls currently favoring Obama, this may be Romney’s last chance to turn his campaign around.  His greatest challenge will be explaining his remarks at a Florida fundraiser, where he stated that 47 percent of Americans pay no federal income taxes, are dependent upon the government, and are unwilling to take responsibility for their lives.  “My job is not to worry about those people,” he said.  Whether Romney can convince viewers that he cares about all Americans could make or break his candidacy.

Romney can hammer the president on the economy.  He should mention that the unemployment rate for Hispanics is two points above the national average, and that Latinos were hit hard by the foreclosure crisis.  Obama can push back with statistics from the Department of Labor, showing that 4.4 million jobs have been created since he took office.

In the past, when Romney spoke about immigration, it was an either/or proposition; he was either addressing his conservative base (as during the GOP primaries) or Hispanic voters (as in the Univision candidate’s forum).  Facing a general audience puts him in a tricky position.  At the very least, it’s time for him to take a stand on the president’s deferred action policy for people brought illegally to the U.S. as children.  Romney has avoided saying whether he would continue or cancel this policy as president.  Now he must take a stance because dodging questions is no longer acceptable.  Obama has admitted that not passing comprehensive reform was the biggest failure of his first term.  He needs to reiterate his commitment to seeking reform during his second term.

President Obama has an edge with Latinos on education.  He can tout his “Race to the Top” program, designed to spur innovation in public schools, and the fact that his stimulus included $100 billion for education.  In contrast, Romney’s proposed budget includes no new money for federal education programs.  It cuts funding for Pell Grants and community colleges, making it harder for Latinos to access higher education.  The president might remind viewers that Romney once advised young people to “borrow money if you have to from your parents” to pay for college – which suggests that he is removed from the lives of ordinary people.

Obama should also have an advantage among Hispanics on health care.  While Americans are divided on “Obamacare,” 66 percent of Hispanics favor the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  Consider that roughly one-third of Hispanics are uninsured, and we spend more on out-of-pocket medical costs than any other racial or ethnic group. Romney has the unenviable job of explaining why he wants to repeal the ACA – which was modeled on the health plan he devised for Massachusetts.

For both candidates, the stakes will be high in the debate.  Romney must jumpstart his candidacy, while Obama needs to recapture the enthusiasm of 2008.  Will President Obama convince Hispanics to entrust him with a second term?  Or can Governor Romney pull off an underdog win?  We may know more on Wednesday evening – so stay tuned.

Analysis: At first Presidential debate, Obama and Romney have some explaining to do  raulreyescrop politics NBC Latino News

Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors.

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