Obama Beats Romney in the 'Hispandering' Game with U of M students

PHOTO: Students at the University of Miami watch as Obama participates in a Meet the Candidates event hosted by Univision in Miami on Thursday, Sep. 20, 2012.

Costantini/Univision

Obama named his inability to pass comprehensive immigration reform as his "biggest failure" during his first term while speaking to Univision anchors at a "Meet the Candidates" event on Thursday.

When asked in July by an English-language journalist at CBS what his "biggest mistake" was, the President said his failure to explain his policy choices to the American people ranked supreme. In the Univision forum held on Thursday at the University of Miami campus, Obama added that his inability to change the tone of Washington was also a failure. But the immigration remark seems to some to be part of a larger effort from both parties to appeal to Hispanic voters -- an important voting block in this election.

University of Miami student Sergio Guarnizo, a Floridian of Colombian descent, says that both parties' pandering to Hispanics (or "Hispandering," as we call it) feels very staged. He said it seems like Republicans and Democrats are only talking to Latinos now that they need their votes, especially in key swing states like Florida.

"It's like that smart weird kid in your class who you don't talk to 'til you know a test is around the corner and you need the lecture notes," Guarnizo said. "You don't talk to him until you have to."

Guarnizo classifies himself as an Obama supporter and says the president's Latino-friendly rhetoric was more authentic than Romney's efforts at his Univision "Meet The Candidates" forum on Wednesday.

"Romney keeps saying that he's going find a longer term solution [for immigration], but he's never offered any evidence of that," he noted.

Obama, he says, has gotten a start on fixing "a broken system" through his deferred action policy which offers temporary reprieve to undocumented youth who could face deportation.

Guarnizo says Latinos have also grown tired Romney's efforts to remind the public that his father was born in Mexico. Without the clarification that George Romney was born to American parents, which Romney has offered when asked, Guarnizo says the statement is misleading and a bit irksome.

"Dude, you're as much Mexican as I am Irish," joked Guarnizo, who describes himself as "100-percent Colombian."

When Univision anchor Jorge Ramos asked Romney on Thursday about his remark that it would be helpful to be Latino during the campaign, Romney repeated that it would help him if he actually were Hispanic.

"I think for political purposes that might have helped me here at the University of Miami today," he said, "but as you know my dad was born of American parents who were living in Mexico, and he came back to this country at age five or six ... and he recognized that this is the land of opportunity, and he has been the role model and inspiration for my whole life."

Obama supporters flooded the student lounge here at University of Miami to watch the event -- and many dismissed the perceived "Hispandering." Some of those students interviewed also noted that the campus was largely liberal, and that few vocal Republicans would show up to watch. Nationally, Romney also trails Obama with voters under the age of 30, according to a new poll released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center.

Janell Barnes, Jordan Cobbs, and Morgan Mckie, friends at U of M who came to the student lounge to watch the event on live stream, said that they respected Obama for admitting his "failure" on immigration.

"He takes the blame, he admits when he's wrong," Barnes, a junior from Philadephia said. "That's what a real man does. He doesn't sidestep the real questions."

Obama's emphasis on preserving Pell grants, a need-based aid program which largely benefits low-income undergraduates, was also appealing to the many present at watch party in the student lounge, including the group of young women. One table of U of M listeners exploded into applause when the president mentioned the grants in Thursday's forum.

Still, other U of M students in the audience noted that the Univision anchors harped on the president's record number of deportations. California-native Isabel Resterbo, 20, was annoyed by the line of questioning and thought it was "too harsh."

"That's so wrong," Resterbo said, after Ramos asked the President why he had "broken his promise" to reform the immigration system. "He's definitely better for Latinos, I don't know why they're pushing so hard on this," she said.

But Barnes disagreed.

"They want answers. They're not tiptoeing around them. Half of the population here in Miami is Hispanic and they want answers," she said. "You can't tread lightly around issues that weigh so heavily on this community."

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