Obama's Immigration Move Puts Romney In a Bind

Washington Matters

Obama's Immigration Move Puts Romney In a Bind

Decision to bypass Rubio and write off Hispanic vote makes economy even more critical to Romney’s chances.

Circle June 15 to June 19 on your calendar and make a mental note to look back at that period in November. Don't be surprised if that short span of time turns out to be the key to the 2012 presidential election.

SEE ALSO: Economic Issues That Will Drive the 2012 Election

President Obama got things rolling with Friday's surprise announcement that the administration is allowing some illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as youngsters to stay here and work.

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By Tuesday, Republican sources were spreading the word that Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida would not be the running mate of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and that Romney’s campaign will write off Hispanics and focus entirely on appealing to his conservative base.


Both strategies come with potential risks and rewards.

Obama's immigration announcement firms up his support with Hispanic voters. In fact, polls taken in the wake of his Rose Garden policy bombshell show his support growing in toss-up states with large Hispanic populations. But if the unemployment rate remains high and the recovery continues to sputter in coming months, the GOP ads criticizing Obama for giving the jobs of U.S. workers to illegal immigrants will almost write themselves.

On the other side of the coin, Obama's announcement undercut any attempt by Romney to expand his coalition by reaching out to Hispanics. He wasn't going to win them over in big numbers under any circumstances, but picking up a few more percentage points over the GOP's average performance would have helped in a close election -- especially with Rubio as his running mate.

With Rubio and Hispanics off the table, though, Romney's campaign will be wedded to the economy even more than usual. In fact, for Romney to win, the economy has to worsen over the summer. There aren't enough Republican voters to carry him to victory on Nov. 6. He has always needed a solid share of independent voters and some moderate Democrats to win. Now, with Hispanic voters more energized and even more likely to back Obama than they were before the president's announcement, Romney will need an even bigger share of the political middle. He won't get it if the economy improves, and he might not get a big enough slice if the economy merely treads water over the summer.


Romney can still get a bump when he makes his vice presidential choice.

With Rubio out of the running, GOP sources say the short list is likely down to five names: Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Rob Portman of Ohio and John Thune of South Dakota; House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin; and former Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota.

Look for Romney to make the safest, least controversial pick.

Only Ayotte and Portman are from swing states, but it doesn't appear that Portman can deliver Ohio. His work as trade representative and budget director under former President George W. Bush would be a lightning rod for criticism from those who say the previous administration shares responsibility for the deep recession, since it started on Bush's watch. That would undercut Romney's efforts to blame Obama for the sluggish recovery.


Ryan, too, may hurt as much as he helps. His call for deep budget cuts and changes in entitlement programs, including Medicare, would cost Romney some support among independent voters.

All else being equal, Ayotte would seem to bring more to the campaign than either Pawlenty or Thune. Her presence on the ticket would give Romney a good shot at picking up New Hampshire's four electoral votes. And she could help Romney close the gender gap among women.

The big question, in light of Obama's go-for-broke immigration pitch, is whether anything a running mate adds to the race will be enough to put Romney in the White House for the next four years.

The answer is yes, but only if the economy sours. That's a heck of a thing to have to bet on.

With reporting from Kenneth R. Bazinet.