There’s more to President Barack Obama’s visit to Los Angeles Monday than just raising money at a couple of star-studded events.
Obama also is here because he needs to shore up his standing with Latino voters, many of whom are angry about his failure to make meaningful progress on immigration reform during his first term.
“The failure to pass the Dream Act and meaningful immigration reform really do create a contest where Obama has to go out and win the Latino vote all over again,” said USC political scientist Ange-Marie Hancock, who studies immigrant issues.
The lack of progress on the Dream Act – which would grant legal residency to many immigrant college students who were brought to the U.S. as minors – is taking place against a backdrop of the poor economy and anti-immigrant laws in Alabama, Arizona and other states. The combination has further soured many Latinos on the President, Hancock said.
A recent poll by the PEW Research Center shows that Obama still has sizeable support among Hispanic voters, about 60 percent of whom say they would support him in match-ups against Republicans Mitt Romney or Rick Perry. But that’s lower than during the 2008 election, when 67 percent of Hispanic voters turned out for Obama.
To win them back, Obama will also have to reach out to Latino business owners. Latinos are disproportionately represented among small business owners, responsible for 35 percent more startups than the national average, said Jorge Corralejo, chairman of the Latino Business Chamber of Greater Los Angeles.
“There has not been an administration in decades that has been a leader for small business,” he said. “I think there’s enormous opportunity for the president to take advantage of this.”
Recent crackdowns on illegal immigration, including requiring all business owners to use the electronic e-verify system to prove that their employees are in the country legally, have hurt Latino businesses, depriving them of both workers and customers, he and others said.
“It’s not the best time for Latinos in business,” said Patricia Perez, past president of the Latin Business Association in Los Angeles. “The crackdown on undocumented immigrants is not only hurting Latinos in general as workers, but also as consumers. So it’s affecting us in both ways.”
A key stop on the president’s Los Angeles tour -- a fund-raiser at the Hancock Park home of actors Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith -- is co-sponsored by a Latino political organization, the Texas-based Futuro Fund.
A number of Latino activists and politicians will attend, including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro. It is co-sponsored by actor and activist Eva Longoria.
State Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), who has been stumping for Obama in Southern California, said winning more Latino support is less about developing new policies and more about putting the blame on Republicans for blocking the president's initiatives.
“His challenge is to demonstrate that to the extent he hasn’t achieved what he wants to achieve, it has nothing to do with lack of proposals - and everything to do with Republican Party recalcitrance,” Padilla said.
“In campaign talk, it’s putting out the message,” Padilla said.
Tickets for the event range from $5,000 to $35,800. It is one of two fund-raisers for the president on Monday. The other is at the home of movie producer James Lassiter, and is co-hosted by actors Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith.
On Tuesday, Obama will come to Burbank to tape an appearance on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” which will air Tuesday night on NBC.