On a brisk morning as nature was sending clear signals that fall had arrived, thousands were descending on Golden’s Lions Park indicating that election season had arrived with it. The president was speaking and people had come to hear and support him.
With just seven weeks until the election, the latest polls show Mr. Obama holding a slim lead in Colorado, a state that is critical to his reelection. His Golden stop — his third to the state in three weeks — was aimed at shoring up support among Democrats. But the president also planned to reach out to Latino voters, a bloc that is crucial if he is to win in November.
In 2008, the president won Colorado easily, 53.5 percent to 44.9 percent over Sen. John McCain. He also won 61 percent of the state’s Latino vote. But with the race as close as it is this time, Mr. Obama knows he must hold steady or — ideally — grow the Latino vote to take the state once again.
Following his Golden address, the president sat down with La Voz Bilingüe for an exclusive one-on-one interview.
Mr. Obama addressed a number of issues important to Latino voters, including the economy, health care, immigration and how he plans to deal with Republican Congressional recalcitrance if he wins in November.
“I will always look for opportunities,” to work with Republicans, he says. But, unless Congress changes, he knows his reality will remain a Republican majority in the House of Representatives — many elected in the 2010 Tea Party rebellion — and only a slim Democratic majority in the Senate. Still, he remains optimistic.
“My general approach is to work with folks where they’re willing to work with us and where they aren’t willing to work with us, to work around them.” He used the latter maneuver in the summer when he granted a two-year immigration reprieve to ‘dreamers,’ thousands of young people — mostly Mexican immigrants — brought to this country by their families and hoping to continue their education.
The plan, referred to as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, has resulted in 82,000 applications being filed by young immigrants so far. But immigration officials say that up to a million young people may be eligible.
“All Americans want to see an immigration system that works, that’s not broken, that provides streamline immigration procedures that provides a pathway for those who are taking responsibility and paying taxes,” he says.
Sitting comfortably across a table in Golden’s Community Center, the president stressed that in order to address this issue and others impacting Latinos in a second term, he needs help. “If you have a strong Latino turnout in states like Colorado, I promise you, folks who were opposed to comprehensive immigration reform will get the message.”
The president is counting on a strong Latino turnout not only in Colorado but also states like Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia.
While the president’s first term has produced a list of accomplishments, including passage of the Affordable Care Act — Obamacare — , ending the Iraq war, the stimulus bill, rescuing the auto industry, Wall Street reform, the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, equal pay for women and the demise of Osama bin Laden, comprehensive immigration reform has not been among them. He believes, however, that it is doable in a second term — and with Republican help.
“My commitment is as strong as it has ever been,” he says. “I also think that there are going to be Republicans who after the election have to do some soul searching, recognizing that the change in demographics in this country and their incapacity to have a message for the Latino community is something that will hamper them for a very long time. And if you combine those two things I think we have a chance to get it done.”
The other choice, particularly for Latinos, the president says, is electing his opponent, former Gov. Mitt Romney; a man Mr. Obama calls someone “who’s as stridently anti-immigration reform as we’ve seen in a very long time.”
Despite the president’s first term legislative record, Mr. Obama has detractors in his own party who argue that his willingness to compromise has cost him among his base. They point to a number of examples in which Republicans have called his hand and won concessions including on the budget deal struck on the debt ceiling, on full contraception insurance for women and dropping the public option on his health care plan.
“I make no apologies about wanting to reach out to everybody and to find common ground. That’s what I ran on in 2008. I will continue to do that where it makes sense.”
But many in his party hope that if the president wins reelection, he may not have to reach across the aisle nearly as deeply or as often in a second term. Not only will he not be running for office again, they say, but he can use the power of the office to blunt Republicans in the same way they have tried to derail him since the day he took office.
They say there is no greater example of Republicans standing firmly against this president than 18 simple words spoken by Senate Republican leadership just two years ago.
“Our top political priority over the next two years should be to deny President Obama a second term,” Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell told his party immediately following the ‘Tea Party rebellion’ in 2010 in which Republicans swept the House. In other words, oppose the president at every opportunity no matter the issue.
The president concedes that despite thirty straight months of job creation, the economy is not where he wants it. Unemployment remains above eight percent; a level the president calls unacceptable. But he also remains confident that things will improve.
“I will always look for opportunities, whether it’s on immigration reform or my Jobs Act that I proposed last year that would create an additional million jobs, putting people back to work in the construction industry or rehiring teachers.”
He is also adamant that he will not, as Gov. Romney has pledged, commit to a tax cut that he believes would hurt middle class families and the economy.
“What I’m not going to do, for example, is vote for a $5 trillion, or sign a bill that has $5 trillion worth of tax cuts for wealthy individuals and leads to us cutting back on support for kids and education. That’s not good for the economy, not good for the Latino community; it’s not good for anybody.”
But no matter the party or the choices voters are offered, Mr. Obama says all Americans should vote in November. “I hope that they are encouraged and inspired to vote in the election,” he says, and not just at the presidential level, but “up and down the ticket.”