THOSE expecting Barack Obama to provide a rousing campaign speech in Ohio were left disappointed. Instead, the President decided to make headlines the following day, issuing an executive order halting the deportation of illegal immigrants who meet certain criteria. It’s a move that may well have reinvigorated the President’s re-election prospects.
Immigration is one of the most emotive issues among Latinos, who are expected to make up approximately 10 per cent of the electorate this year and will play a key role in the outcome of races in New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado, Florida and even possibly Arizona. Obama will be hoping that this move not only wins him votes, but pushes the Latino community to display the fervour and enthusiasm they displayed four years ago. It already appears to have paid some dividends, with a poll showing 73 per cent of Latinos backing Obama, versus 26 per cent for Mitt Romney. Half of Latino voters (up from 14 per cent) are now more fired up to vote for the President in November. The President can’t win without them.
Ostensibly Obama’s move may also curry favour among the wider electorate. Polls indicate that support for the policy is running at 64 per cent to 30 per cent in the President’s favour, especially among independents. But despite what the President’s closest advisers say, few will believe that Obama’s move is anything but naked politicking. The administration has hardly been too accomplished at downplaying politics when selling principle. And therein lies the risk. After all, it was only 12 months ago when the President told supporters that he didn’t possess the authority to take such action. Many members of Congress – and the constitution’s checks and balances – would certainly argue that’s still the case.
In the long term, the President’s actions are likely a setback for more comprehensive solutions to America’s 11.5m unauthorized immigrants. Not surprisingly, executive orders have the tendency to poison the well with Congress. And rather from a position of strength, the President was forced into taking these drastic measures after Republican Senator Marco Rubio, a possible vice presidential pick for Romney, had proposed a legislative solution similar to his executive order. To Democrats that matters little. Most feel that the President has halted Romney’s momentum, forcing him to stop talking about the economy and instead discuss immigration, an issue the Republican nominee has yet to nuance. It’s up to Romney whether he takes the bait.
But having assuaged green, gay and now Latino supporters (a deal on student loans is next), Obama’s campaign runs the risk of appearing parochial, especially if the President continues to fail in his efforts to convey a convincing message on how his second term would reinvigorate the one issue that unites every voter: the economy.
Ewan Watt is a Washington, DC-based consultant. You can follow him on @ewancwatt