President Obama speaks on the American Jobs Act as Lissette, from left,… (Ethan Miller/Getty Images )
Reporting from Las Vegas — A president’s time counts for something, so when Barack Obama goes somewhere aides make sure it’s for a good reason.
Or even a few good reasons.
His three-day Western swing is a fine example. There’s a policy aspect to the trip, a campaign component, and a broader political dynamic at work.
The first two were easy to spot. Obama packed six fundraising events into his swing through Nevada, California and Colorado. Campaign officials won’t release the fundraising totals yet, but it’s safe to say that when he flies home Wednesday he’ll have added millions of dollars to his campaign coffers.
Obama is also rolling out new plans to help struggling veterans, students and homeowners. He is acting on his executive authority, an acknowledgement that waiting for Congress in this polarized climate is a losing proposition.
But Obama’s senior aides had another goal in mind when they planned the trip: courting Latino voters. Polls show Obama has lost ground since 2008, when he won two-thirds of the Latino vote in his race against Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona. Latinos are a fast-growing ethnic bloc that could damage Obama in the 2012 election should they stay home in large numbers.
Some Latino leaders are disheartened that Obama has not made more progress toward passing an immigration bill that would provide a path to legal status for people living in the U.S. illegally.
He needs them feeling motivated to vote.
Hoping to shore up his standing, the Obama campaign has launched a massive push to rally the Latino vote. The project was on full display Monday -- in a fundraising event at the home of actors Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith, but also in a brief meeting with a Latino family in a Las Vegas subdivision.
Obama’s motorcade took him to the modest stucco house where Lissette and Jose Bonilla live with their three children.
Both were undocumented immigrants who later became citizens. Photographers were briefly allowed in to capture Obama’s conversation with the couple. The three sat around a small dining room table. Obama, suit jacket off, listened and softly asked questions about their lives, chin propped against his hand.
That was the photo the press got, and no doubt the photo Team Obama wanted. A small moment in a long day of travel and speeches; the president listening patiently to a Latino family talk about their struggles and aspirations