ORLANDO — Before President Barack Obama arrives in Tampa today to rally as many as 3,000 people, he will make his case to Hispanic leaders in Orlando.
Obama will have some explaining to do, even with the heavily Democratic crowd at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) conference in central Florida.
He last addressed the group in 2008, vowing that comprehensive immigration reform "is a priority I will pursue from my very first day." It never happened.
Four years ago he also reminded the Hispanic elected officials of the grim economy at the tail end of a Republican administration.
"For eight long years, Washington hasn't been working for ordinary Americans. And few have been hit harder than Latinos and African Americans," he said then. "You know about the families all across this country who are out of work, or uninsured, or struggling to pay rising costs for everything from a tank of gas to a bag of groceries. And that's why you know that we need change in this country."
As he heads to Central Florida today, Obama has little to boast about on the economy.
The national unemployment rate among Hispanics was 11 percent in May, almost 3 points higher than the national average of 8.2 percent. The unemployment rate among Hispanics was 6.5 percent in early 2008. A Pew Research Center survey in January found that nearly 6 in 10 Latinos reported that someone in their household was out of work in the past year.
Courting Hispanics, especially Puerto Ricans in the Orlando area, is a key part of Obama's strategy for winning Florida's 29 electoral votes. A Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday showed Obama leading Mitt Romney in Florida 46 percent to 42 percent, while a national Associated Press-GfK poll found Obama with 47 percent support and Romney with 44 percent. The Florida poll showed Obama leading among Hispanic Floridians by 10 percentage points, though margin of error for that sample of Hispanic voters is considerable higher than the poll's overall margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percent.
Hispanic voters nationally backed Obama over John McCain in 2008 by a more than 2-to-1 margin, and national polls have shown the president leading by a similar margin among Hispanics in recent months. Romney is now softening the hard-line rhetoric he used in the primary when talking about undocumented residents and trying to narrow Obama's lead among Hispanics by focusing on the economy.
"I would ask each of you to look at the last 3½ years, and ask whether we can do better," Romney told the NALEO conference Thursday. "Is the America of 11 percent Hispanic unemployment the America of our dreams? I know we can do better."
The president will address the group at midday and then fly to Tampa for a campaign rally at about 4:15 p.m. at Hillsborough Community College's Dale Mabry campus. No more tickets are available for that event.
The Obama campaign wouldn't disclose how many tickets were given out. But Ashley Carl, a spokeswoman for HCC, said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times that the gymnasium seats 1,084.
"They are planning for guests to stand as well," Carl said. "There is a formula for standing room space which would be determined once the staging is set. We held close to 3,000 in the gym when President Clinton visited."
Times staff writer Michael Van Sickler and researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Adam C. Smith can be reached at [email protected]