Obama vs. Romney on Immigration

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From the “no core” division of the Obama campaign’s messaging operation comes this new Web video, essentially a compendium of news reporters carping about Mitt Romney’s evasiveness on immigration policy:

With public trust in the media waning, I’m not sure this is the most effective way to mount the case. But it reflects the belief of the Obama team that, at least on this topic, it has its opponent boxed in. Having lurched to the right on immigration during his twin primary campaigns, Romney now faces the challenge of repairing his relationship with Hispanic voters — a critical constituency in swing states like Florida — without alienating the nativist wing of his party.

Romney’s campaign, as well as his allies in the RNC, is acutely aware of this. Its approach suggests a calculation that the best way to talk about immigration is to wrap it in economic boilerplate and present it as another pocketbook problem on which Obama’s policies come up short. “The Hispanic community has felt firsthand the devastating effects of President Obama’s failed economic policies and broken immigration promises,” Romney charged in a campaign statement released this morning. “Hispanic voters should know that I will work long and hard to earn their trust and vote. And when I am elected President, I intend to keep all the promises I have made to them.”

At a breakfast Thursday morning sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, a succession of reporters tried to bait Marco Rubio, the GOP’s “Latino liaison,” into critiquing Romney’s lack of specificity on immigration. Rubio didn’t bite. He suggested that Romney’s diaphanous position on immigration — that Obama’s Executive Order made a long-term solution more difficult — was a “mature” one in light of the issue’s complex politics. Rubio also said that his party’s immediate task was to reframe its messaging, casting itself as pro–legal immigration instead of anti–illegal immigration. Romney was adept at this yesterday, outlining a few policies that would help the U.S. compete for talented foreign workers. He used a softer tone and promised to address the issue in a “civil and resolute manner.”

But as Jon Huntsman can tell you, comity alone can’t float a campaign. Issuing press releases in Spanish is no substitute for having a concrete immigration policy. As it struggles elsewhere, Obama’s team has signaled that it will keep tightening the vise on a topic on which it has the advantage.

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