Obama Answers Questions From Latino Voters

President Obama attended a town hall meeting on Thursday in Miami. The event was sponsored by Univision and focused on issues of importance to the Hispanic community. Scott Horsley talks to Audie Cornish.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish. This week, President Obama and Mitt Romney are trying to burnish their credentials with Latino voters. Yesterday, Romney appeared on a special Univision broadcast fielding questions from hosts and the audience. Today, the president did the same at a studio in Miami. NPR's Scott Horsley was there and joins us now.

And Scott, polls have suggested that President Obama has a big lead over Mitt Romney when it comes to Latino voters. What kind of reception did the president get there today?

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Well, President Obama, like Mitt Romney, he appeared in front of a live studio audience, but unfortunately the audiences were drawn, in the president's case, from college Democrats and in Mitt Romney's case from college Republicans. So you didn't get a really good objective read about how they'd do with a cross-section of Latino voters in Florida or nationwide.

They did get, though, from the Univision anchors, some pretty tough questioning. With Mr. Obama, for example, he was asked right out of the gate about why he hadn't kept his promise to pass comprehensive immigration reform during his first year in office.

CORNISH: Now, immigration policy has been a concern for many Latino voters. What did the president have to say about that?

HORSLEY: Well, one thing he says, that when he promised to do that, that was before Lehman Brothers had collapsed and before the economy really went in the tank. And so he said he did have some other priorities that he had to attend to during his first year that he didn't expect when he made that pledge. But more importantly, he blamed Republican resistance, especially in the Senate, where, of course, even a minority Republicans were able to block immigration reforms from ever coming to a vote.

(SOUNDBITE OF UNIVISION BROADCAST)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: What I confess I did not expect - and so I'm happy to take responsibility for being naive here - is that Republicans who had previously supported comprehensive immigration reform, my opponent in 2008, who had been a champion of it and who attended these meetings, suddenly would walk away.

HORSLEY: Now, the president called that failure one of his biggest disappointments, but he says that kind of unfinished business is one reason he's running for a second term.

CORNISH: And Mitt Romney got some pointed questions about this as well, correct?

HORSLEY: He did and he sort of soft-pedaled his previous hard line position on illegal immigration, but he did not backtrack. Romney was asked, for example, how he would handle the so-called Dream Act kids. He's been critical of the president for temporarily halting deportation of illegal immigrants who came to this country as children, saying a temporary move is not good enough.

But Romney offered no hint to what his own permanent fix would look like, except to say that he would allow young people who serve in the military to earn a green card.

CORNISH: So what is Romney trying to do to cut into Mr. Obama's advantage with Latino voters?

HORSLEY: Well, his argument is primarily an economic one. Romney says Latinos have not prospered during Mr. Obama's tenure.

(SOUNDBITE OF UNIVISION BROADCAST)

MITT ROMNEY: There are two million more Hispanics living in poverty today than when the president took office. We've now had 56, I believe, straight months with unemployment above 10 percent for Hispanic Americans. It's unacceptable.

HORSLEY: Now, that's compared to an overall jobless rate of just over eight percent. Obviously, 56 months would takes us well back into the Bush administration, but Romney insists it's the president's policies that are largely to blame.

CORNISH: And Scott, lastly, the significance of these forums happening on Univision.

HORSLEY: Well, obviously the fact that both of these candidates would take an hour out of their very busy campaign schedules specifically to address this audience tells you just how important the Latino vote has become. We expect it to be about one in 12 votes nationwide and an even bigger slice of the electorate in battlegrounds like, especially Florida.

CORNISH: NPR's Scott Horsley travelling with the president in Miami. Thank you, Scott.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you, Audie.

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