WASHINGTON - Hola, voters.
The presidential campaign has hit America's Latino community with both President Barack Obama and his Republican rival, Mitt Romney, busy this week wooing the Hispanic vote, which is an increasingly powerful demographic burgeoning in key swing states that could decide the election.
Romney told the country's largest gathering of Hispanic political leaders Thursday in Orlando that Obama takes their vote "for granted," and Latinos disappointed by the president's inaction on immigration and the economy -- the unemployment rate for Hispanics is 11% compared to the national average of 8.2% -- have "an alternative."
"Your vote should be respected and your voice is more important now than ever before," Romney said, promising to strengthen legal immigration efforts and address the problem of illegal immigration "in a civil and resolute manner."
Not to be outdone, Obama addressed the same crowd Friday, and touted his recent executive order halting the deportation of about one million young illegal immigrants who were brought here as children.
"On Friday we announced we're lifting the shadow of deportation from deserving young people who are brought to this country as children," he said, adding his measure is only "temporary" and Congress still has to reform immigration permanently.
Both parties agreed to a similar measure six years ago in Congress under former President George W. Bush, but a "small faction" of new radical Republicans now oppose the measure, he said.
The law allows illegal immigrants under the age of 30 who were brought to the U.S. as children and have either served in the military or have a U.S. education to stay. Republicans have blasted the move as nothing more than an election ploy.
According to U.S. census data, there were 35 million hispanic Americans in 2000. That number is estimated at more than 50 million now - some 21 million of them eligible to vote.
What makes the Latino vote especially important in this election is where the Hispanic population has grown recently -- Texas, Georgia, New Mexico, Florida, Colorado, Nevada, and Virginia -- the last five of which are considered crucial swing states in November's election.
According to a Latino Decisions poll released Friday, Obama leads Romney among Hispanics by a whopping 50 percentage points in Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico, 30 points in Virginia, and 26 points in Florida.