By Douglas E. Schoen
President Obama's most important speech in terms of his long term political fortunes was not his address to the nation last night on the debt ceiling crisis.
To be sure, the President felt a need to reiterate the basic argument he has been making about the superiority of his plan over that of the Republicans and speaker John Boehner. And with Boehner's response it seems pretty clear that both sides have, for the time being, hardened their positions and solidified support with core constituencies.
In short, neither side has changed many minds.
But far more significant was the President's trip to the National Council of La Raza in Washington yesterday where the President spoke on the need for Hispanic empowerment and the need to pass comprehensive immigration reform. With his position among whites weakening and his standing in states like North Carolina and Virginia and Indiana very much up for grabs, the President is going to need to consolidate his hold in states with large Hispanic populations like Florida, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada, that he won last time, and add other states with Hispanic populations like Arizona, Illinois and New Jersey, and to be able to get the 270 electoral votes that he needs to win the election.
The President did cancel a couple of fundraisers yesterday, and that was probably reasonable and appropriate, given the ongoing crisis. It wouldn't look particularly good for the President to be raising money from fat cats at a time when he is seemingly making tough decisions on the budget and the deficit with Congressional Republicans and when the nation is facing a legitimate crisis.
But the largely unwritten story of the 2012 election, is the importance of the Hispanic vote. In last 15 years the size of the Hispanic vote has almost doubled, and in key swing states they are the critical group that will make the difference next year. With Obama having gotten close to 70% of the Hispanic in 2008, he needs that level of support or most likely more to win reelection in what by all rights will be closer contest in 2012 than it was in 2008.
The President and his advisors know this-- seemingly the Republicans don't--otherwise the GOP would be more proactive in supporting some form of comprehensive immigration reform. The Tea Party members were elected to stand up for their constituents on fiscal issues, and are certainly doing that, no matter what the political consequences are in next year's congressional election.
The issue of immigration is of huge national importance to our country, and even greater political importance in the short term electoral context. No one, save the President and his advisors, are seemingly focused on it, and this could be the key to whether he succeeds in winning reelection his year.
Douglas E. Schoen is a political strategist. His most recent book is "Mad as Hell: How the Tea Party Movement is Fundamentally Remaking Our Two-Party System" published by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins.