Barack Obama Campaigns in Miami, Puerto Rico
Around the State
As GOP candidates took part in the second presidential primary debate in New Hampshire, a key early primary state, Obama swept through Miami and Puerto Rico Monday, looking to solidify Florida -- one of the essential states in the 2012 general election.
Before heading to Miami for a fundraiser, Obama began Monday in North Carolina, a normally red state that he barely won in 2008.
Puerto Rico was the next stop, as Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit the island in 50 years. He last visited the U.S. territory as a candidate in 2008. Back then he was looking for delegates in a close primary race with Hillary Clinton, but now Obama may have his eye less on Puerto Rico and more on Florida, where many of the island residents’ compatriots have flocked.
Florida now holds 29 electoral votes, up by two from the previous presidential election, thanks largely to a jump in the state’s Hispanic population. That jump was driven partly by an increase in native Puerto Rican residents in Central Florida.
According to the 2010 U.S Census, Florida’s Hispanic or Latino population grew from 16.8 percent in 2000 to 22.5 percent in 2010. Of the 2.8 million new Florida residents added over the last decade, more than 1.5 million -- 57 percent -- are Hispanic. Florida is also home to 8.4 percent of the nation’s Hispanic population, the third-largest Hispanic population behind California and Texas.
A look inside the numbers reveals a potential problem for any 2012 Republican presidential candidate with hopes of winning Florida.
The state’s population of residents of Cuban descent -- most of whom reside in South Florida and traditionally support the GOP -- stands at 1.2 million and is still the largest of any Latin residents in the country. But those with Puerto Rican heritage -- who leaned Democratic in the 2008 election and primarily live in Central Florida, where the all-important Interstate 4 corridor lies -- are gaining ground, with 847,500 citizens in Florida.
Those changes, however, belie Obama’s weakness on an issue that has traditionally been of primary importance to presidential campaigns, and is likely to be this year more than any other: the economy. The May unemployment rate is 9.1 percent. Should Obama win re-election without a significant drop in unemployment, he would be the first president to win another term of office with a national jobless rate of more than 7.2 percent since President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
While Democrats are hoping Florida Gov. Rick Scott's low poll numbers -- he has a 29 percent approval rating and is one of the least popular governors in the U.S. -- will help Obama in 2012, Florida Republicans are pointing out the discrepancy between Obama's record and Scott's on jobs. The national unemployment rate of 9.1 percent is lower than the state jobless rate of 10.1 percent, but has ticked up in recent months, while the state rate is headed in the opposite direction, down nearly 1 percentage point since Scott has been in office.
"President Obama should spend a little less time focusing on keeping his job and a little more time creating jobs for the rest of the country. The fact that he is in our state just to raise money for his campaign is a slap in the face to every Floridian who needs to get back to work. While Governor Scott is making the tough decisions and recruiting businesses to Florida, Barack Obama and Representative Wasserman Schultz continue to try to spin the fact that the president has failed to turn the economy around," said Republican Party of Florida Chairman Dave Bitner.
Former U.S. Senator and current U.S. Senate candidate George LeMieux took Obama to task for focusing on his re-election campaign at the expense of the economy. He also took aim at incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, whom he is trying to unseat, in a new attack video released Monday.
“As President Obama travels to Miami today to raise money for his re-election, the Obama economy continues to devastate Florida families and businesses. New spending is growing our record $14 trillion debt, policies like Obamacare hinder our economic recovery, and our senator, Bill Nelson, has supported the liberal Obama agenda every step of the way,” LeMieux said on Monday.
National-level Republicans were also quick to criticize Obama’s early campaign stop, and are counting on Obama's dismal economic performance to take precedence over immigration issues among Florida's Hispanic voters. While the immigration enforcement bill pushed by Republicans at the state level may have stirred up some acrimony among Hispanic voters, Republican National Committee spokesperson Victoria Martinez cautioned that Hispanics are not one-issue voters.
“Hispanics are not monolithic. Fixing our broken immigration process is one of many important issues on the minds of Hispanic voters as they look toward the 2012 election. Like most other Americans, Hispanics are concerned about the economy, jobs, high gas prices, and Washington’s out-of-control spending. The president has failed to show any type of leadership on these issues. I think that Florida’s 10.8 percent unemployment rate and President Obama’s failure to deliver on his hollow campaign promises will be the issues weighing most heavily on the minds of Florida’s Hispanic voters," Martinez said.
Meanwhile, GOP candidates involved in the New Hampshire debate are not taking their eyes off Florida.
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has committed to the P-5 Florida straw poll in September. Former Utah Gov. John Huntsman has done the same, even though he has not formally declared himself to be in the race, but has installed his nominal campaign headquarters in Orlando. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, largely considered to be the front-runner in the GOP primary, has elected to skip the Florida straw poll, but has committed to a debate in Orlando in September and has six scheduled campaign and fundraising stops in the state during a three-day swing this week.
Reach Gray Rohrer at email@example.com or at (850) 727-0859.