WASHINGTON – Less than a month after President Barack Obama announced he would delay using his executive authority to reform immigration laws, there is evidence that the decision is doing exactly what he hoped to avoid: hurting Democrats.
Activists in key states say it is increasingly difficult to register would-be Latino voters who would vote for Democrats because of unhappiness over the decision. Poll numbers for Obama and Democrats have also dropped farther among Hispanics than the population at large.
One group has even launched a campaign against four Democratic senators who backed a GOP proposal to bar Obama from taking any executive action on immigration.
“The president has not helped us,” said activist Leo Murietta, 28, who is working to register Latino voters in Colorado for Mi Familia Vota. “People are disappointed. They wanted action, they wanted activity, they wanted movement.”
With so many congressional and gubernatorial candidates locked in close races this year, Democrats can’t afford signs of complacency or sagging support. But Murietta and others believe that only action – not promises of action – will help spur increased turnout among Hispanics with just five weeks until Election Day.
Obama was already suffering from gradual disenchantment among Hispanics before he made his decision last month to delay action on immigration. In a Washington Post-ABC News poll last July, Obama had a 68 percent approval among Hispanics for his handling immigration. By September, that number had dropped to 42 percent.
From 2012 to 2013, Obama went from 75 percent approval to 52 percent among Hispanics in national Gallup polls; he’s at 48 percent among Hispanics in the group’s most recent approval tracking.
Maria Teresa Kumar, president of Voto Latino, a nonpartisan group seeking to register young Hispanic voters, said that, despite any misgivings, Latinos need to turn out this year in record numbers to remind Obama, his party and Republicans that they want the immigration issue settled.
“Until we try to actually recognize that our number one initiative is to organize each other … we’re always going to be left behind,” she said. “And it gets to a point that it’s no longer anyone’s fault but our own.”
But far beyond Washington, activists are struggling to convince skeptics.
On a busy day, Murietta and his team fan out to find would-be voters at grocery stores, elementary schools and bus stops in Denver and Pueblo, Colo. Murietta said the typical number of sign-ups has plummeted from maybe a dozen a day before Obama’s decision to as few as three a day now.
“Less people are willing to talk about elections,” he said. “We’ve just had to get more creative and really find ways to talk about the issues and the elections.”
There’s similar resistance in Arizona, said Raquel Teran, who leads a team of 35 scouring the Phoenix and Tucson areas for new voters.
Some activists are also encouraging Latinos to skip voting on a key contest: their U.S. Senate race.
Presente.org, a Los Angeles-based Latino rights group claiming 250,000 members nationwide, is encouraging followers in four states to skip voting to re-elect Democratic Sens. Mark Pryor, of Arkansas; Mary Landrieu, Louisiana; Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire; and Kay Hagan, North Carolina. Those states have about 353,000 eligible Latino voters – a small number, but a potentially critical bloc of support in close races.
All four senators, along with Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., voted with Republicans last month on a GOP attempt to roll back Obama’s program giving temporary legal status to hundreds of thousands of children of illegal immigrants.