The Latino vote has been fairly coveted this election season, but during the first presidential debate political analysts claimed it was a missed opportunity to appeal to this growing electorate.
Expectations were running high for a question on immigration to be asked, but it was virtually ignored this time around.
PBS host Jim Lehrer never once mentioned it. Nor did the presidential contenders.
“I was pleasantly surprised to hear that immigration is not a domestic issue,” said Angelo Falcon, founder of the National Institute for Latino Policy. “Specifically, there wasn’t a whole lot that was relevant to Latinos—I think the whole general discussion was a little bit too confusing to follow.”
There was plenty of back and forth that advocates say could make it confusing for voters to understand the facts.
The debate was held at the University of Denver in the battleground state of Colorado. It is the first of three presidential debates. Romney has been trailing in his performance ever since a leaked video was released. Romney joked saying that if he were Latino, he would have better chances of winning the presidency.
Yet, it was his remarks on 47 percent of Americans receiving government services that really shook up his opponents.
Wednesday night, he was going to offer an alternative and through his performance initiate a change in mindset.
Still, several Latino political analysts agreed the debate was too stale for that to happen. The president is being equally criticized as being too passive.
“For the president that’s not a good sign in the sense that he’s got to get Latinos motivated,” said Falcon.
Polls already indicate the president is gaining more traction with the Latino vote as November inches closer. A recent CNN poll showed 70 percent of Latinos would vote for Obama.
There were several opportunities, Falcon explained that could have boosted his chances to appeal to the Hispanic community. A vote he has been seeking for more than a year.
One of those missed opportunities Falcon said was when the conversation led to the debate on taxes. Romney went on the offensive making the claim that the president’s tax policies had “crushed” the middle class. For the most part, Obama rebutted such arguments by relying on his track record, but as noted earlier he didn’t dismantle Romney’s credibility.
“He (Obama) didn’t go hard on Romney taking away those entitlements on people. I thought they agreed to disagree on how they viewed it,” said Jennifer Korn, president of the Hispanic Leadership Network.
She said in contrast that Romney gave a different alternative and softened his image. “I think Romney made it very clear that on social security he’s not going to touch it for those people who are over 60,” she said. “He might have quelled the fears that the negative attacks on him have been having because people were able to see him in his own words.”
Latino vote ignored in presidential debate
Many supporters claimed the Latino vote continues to be at play for Romney and speculation that Wednesday night’s debate would be a game changer might add to those numbers. Media reports have already hailed Romney as a victor. A CNN post debate poll shows that Romney won the debate among likely voters 67 to 25 percent.
Clarissa Martinez, civic engagement director of the National Council of La Raza, said Romney’s performance might have an appeal. There were points that Romney hit on that were particularly revealing, she explained.
“He talked about—that we need to take care of people that are in need and vulnerable, which I think is an important statement to make particularly on his disclosure of his statements of the 47 percent,” she said.
Martinez said toward the end of the debate Romney ended on a policy approach, but that raised more questions for Latinos.”The part of the question is—if the plan is to lessen taxes, more money for the military and no adjustments for those who are retired or near retirement then where do the funds come to make the investments for children, young people, people below 55, which are going to provide the future workforce and where a lot of the Latino community is in terms of age group?”
On the question of immigration, she echoed Falcon’s statement that it was a missed opportunity to appeal to the Latino vote.
“For many Latinos, the fact that neither candidate mentioned the word immigration and more importantly the moderator did not bring up the question on that subject, I think was a big disappointment,” Martinez said.
Still, some would argue even though Romney offered a strong counterattack and softened his image, he wasn’t overtly looking to appease undecided Latino voters.
“Governor Romney definitely held his own and came out very aggressive—but it’s not clear that there’s enough people he was able to convince through his performance,” said Matt Barreto of Latino Decisions.
“There’s no evidence that the debates have single handedly changed the course of the elections. It just causes us to perhaps take a second look at the candidates. Most people have made up their minds. Now we’re in the final home stretch here,” said Barreto.
“It’s just theatrics and regardless of who has a better night it doesn’t really influence a lot of voters because first of all there are not that many undecided voters.”