NEW YORK - President Barack Obama's re-election campaign launched a series of Spanish-language television ads in three battleground states on Tuesday. Separately, a Republican official stated that Mitt Romney is "still deciding" his position on immigration, then backtracked. Taken together, the ads and the comment underscored the Democrat's advantages and his Republican opponent's challenge in wooing the nation's fastest-growing ethnic group, Democratic-leaning Hispanics.
The Obama campaign ads, promoting the president's federal health care overhaul, are running in Florida, Nevada and Colorado, states with large Hispanic populations. Obama carried the three against Republican John McCain in 2008, and polling shows a tight contest again this election.
The Spanish-language commercials are running as part of a nine-state, $25 million advertising effort the Obama team unveiled this week. The campaign had previously spent $850,000 on Spanish-language ads in the same three states to promote Obama's education policies, according to Smart Media Group, which tracks political ad spending.
Obama won 67 percent of Hispanic voters to McCain's 31 percent in 2008. Polling shows Obama continues to have a wide lead among Hispanics, even as the limping economy has weakened his position among other demographic groups he carried in the last election.
A Pew Research Center poll taken last month found 67 percent of Hispanic voters backed Obama, compared to 27 percent for Romney. A Quinnipiac University poll also taken last month found a similar result _ Obama led Romney by a margin of 64-24 percent.
Romney, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, took hardline positions on immigration issues during the contentious Republican nominating contest. He said he would veto the so-called DREAM Act, which would allow the children of illegal immigrants to enroll in college or the military and eventually establish citizenship or permanent residency in the U.S. He also urged a reduction of benefits for illegal immigrants to push them to "self-deport" and praised a controversial Arizona law that allows police to ask about the immigration status of anyone they stop.
Romney has already signaled he'll consider policies that may not line up with opinions expressed during the primary. In April he said his campaign was evaluating a conservative alternative to the DREAM Act proposed by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. The legislation would allow some illegal immigrant students to receive visas that would permit them to stay in the U.S. legally for some period of time.
The Romney campaign aired Spanish-language ads in Florida before that state's primary in January but has not run any since. The Republican-leaning super PAC American Crossroads ran Spanish-language ads criticizing Obama in several battleground states in 2011 but has not done so this year.
Republican officials at a news briefing Tuesday in Washington acknowledged the hurdles the party faces with Hispanics. The party has named Hispanic outreach directors in six swing states _ Colorado, Florida, New Mexico, Nevada, North Carolina and Virginia.
Bettina Inclan, the Republican National Committee's Hispanic outreach director, appeared to compound Romney's challenge by suggesting that he hadn't developed a clear position on immigration.
"I think as a candidate, to my understanding, he's still deciding what his position on immigration is. I can't talk about what his position is going to be," Inclan said.
Inclan quickly took to Twitter to say she had misspoken. "Romney's position on immigration is clear," she tweeted.
Romney campaign spokesman Albert Martinez released a statement criticizing Obama on immigration.
"President Obama broke his promise to Hispanics on immigration reform, Americans still oppose his healthcare takeover, more Hispanics have been plunged into poverty as a result of his weak leadership on the economy, and his $800 billion stimulus failed to stem the jobs crisis in the Hispanic community. With a record like that, President Obama has no choice but to spend millions of dollars trying to spin his failed leadership and broken promises," Martinez said.
Associated Press Deputy Polling Director Jennifer Agiesta and Associated Press writer Kasie Hunt in Washington contributed to this report.
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