The Obama and Romney campaigns are squeezing every last hour until Tuesday campaigning for votes, mainly in battleground states. In conversations today with NBC Latino, campaign leaders in both parties are staying excited and optimistic about their candidate’s prospects for a victory on Tuesday.
National polls have consistently shown Latino voters favor Barack Obama over Mitt Romney by significant, 50-point margins. Republican leaders were optimistic their message is reaching Latinos, though. Today, former U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez and Florida Governor Jeb Bush were in Tampa this morning campaigning for Mitt Romney, participating on a bus tour which will go to different parts of Florida, particularly central Florida, where the Latino vote is considered crucial in such a tight election. Yesterday many high-ranking leaders in the Romney campaign took part in a thirty-thousand person rally in Ohio, considered “the” battleground state in this election, before fanning out to different parts of the country today.
“It’s an incredibly close race, and this weekend is a weekend of knocking on doors and making sure people have rides to the polls,” says former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who says he thinks Governor Romney is “closing in because he has a bigger, positive message.”
In talking about the Latino vote, Governor Bush thinks Romney has made inroads into the Latino community. He acknowledges among Hispanic voters, Romney “was significantly behind, not because of his doing but because of the Republican party’s narrow focus on immigration – a restrictive tone which hurt the campaign,” says Bush. The former Florida Governor says President Obama’s “failed policies” have hurt his campaign among Hispanics.
Today on the website “Politico,” Florida Republican Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, took a different tack on the immigration issue. Diaz-Balart wrote it was “disingenuous” for Vice President Biden to say they were “breaking their necks” to pass immigration reform. Diaz-Balart said Latinos were “misled” by Obama on immigration, adding “the Obama presidency has not been kind to Hispanics” and the economy has been “devastating” to Latino families.
Former Commerce Secretary Gutierrez, co-chair of the Juntos con Romney campaign, says he saw enthusiastic crowds in Ohio yesterday. “I see a lot of Latino small business owners who are turning out for Governor Romney,” states Gutierrez. “The race is tight everywhere you look, but my sense is the momentum is in the Governor’s favor,” he adds.
In Colorado today, Mitt Romney’s son Craig was going to different parts of the state with former Treasurer Rosario Marin as well as Juntos con Romney co-chair Hector Barreto. Craig Romney has been a big part of the Romney campaign’s Latino outreach; he speaks fluent Spanish from his two years as a Mormon missionary in Chile.
“It’s been tremendously rewarding and I am humbled by the great opportunity I have had to connect with Latinos on behalf of my family,” says the young Romney. Though he does not speak on policy when he is out campaigning, Romney says he has been talking to Latino voters about the personal side of his father, “You don’t get to really know a person through sound bites,” says Romney, “and I think people have enjoyed getting to know my Dad.” He adds that “anecdotally, looking at all the signs I see and the people who have gathered in our rallies, I think my Dad has the momentum here.”
On the Democratic side, Latino leaders say they are feeling very positive about President Obama’s chances for re-election – and the role of Latino voters. In Lee County, Florida, today, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar was there on a non-official capacity, “here to personally support Barack Obama, since I know him since we were both U.S. Senators, and I know his commitment to education, immigration, and the economy,” Salazar says. “We’ve made a lot of progress, and the President has been a champion of the Dream Act, and immigration reform, unlike Romney who talked of self-deportation,” says Salazar. “The simple question is who is on the side of the Latino community,” he adds.
“I’ve been in other parts of Florida, and Miami, and now here in Lee County I see great enthusiasm and support, and long lines for early voting,” Salazar says. “It’s going to be a razor-thin election, but we feel very good; we’re optimistic about Florida and other battleground states,” Salazar adds.
Just like Republicans, top Democrats were in battleground states today, with Vice President Biden in Colorado saying a Romney/Ryan ticket “want the enlightened and powerful” to steer the country, and former President Clinton in Tallahassee today, saying “in the 33 months since we started growing again, the economy has produced 5.3 million jobs,”adding that “the days are short, the election is close, and Florida can determine the outcome-what else is new?” Tomorrow night, Latino star PitBull will be with President Obama, and on Monday, Latino star Ricky Martin will be in central Florida with First Lady Michelle Obama.
Juan Sepulveda, Senior Advisor for Hispanic Affairs for the Democratic National Committee, says he is feeling “great” about his party’s chances to win the White House for another four years . “I think the work we started over a year ago in neighborhoods on the ground is working – we’re seeing voter registration numbers that are off the charts, absentee ballots that are off the charts, and early voters are exceeding our expectations,” he says.
In Florida,Sepulveda says, there is a 64 percent increase in Latinos requesting ballots, and he says this is the first election cycle with more Latino Democrats in Florida across the board.” Latino voter registration is up 20 percent in Florida and 55 percent in North Carolina, and among these voters, Sepulveda says he is confident Hispanics will help re-elect President Obama.
“The question was whether we were going to show up and whether enthusiasm would be there, and the numbers are showing it,” says Sepulveda.
Even so, neither party is letting optimism get in the way of campaigning until the very end of a very close campaign.