The GOP has launched an anti-Obama media campaign aimed at Latinos in the Southwest.

The campaign comes just days after Republicans announced plans to go after Latino voters next year through an initiative to attract Latino candidates to run for office.

The advertising campaign, airing on radio stations in New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada, criticizes President Obama’s handling of the economy. The campaign, by the Republican National Committee, tries to link the president’s role in unemployment, taxes, the deficit and national debt to the financial struggles that Hispanics are facing.

The campaign, part of a larger one called “Change Direction” that assails the president on the debt and deficit, focuses on “highlighting President Obama’s failed economic leadership. . .acknowledging the region’s Hispanic population and 11.6 percent unemployment among Hispanics nationally,” said a statement by the RNC.

The Southwest is considered a critical region to win in the 2012 election.  And Latinos in that region could be a key component of an electoral victory, officials in both Democratic and Republican camps say.

Over the last decade, the 2010 Census showed, Latino population growth was most rapid in the South, where many states have seen their Latino populations double since 2000. For the first time, Hispanic population growth outpaced that of blacks and whites in the region, changing the South's traditional "black-white" image.

Nationwide, the Hispanic population grew to 50.5 million in 2010 from 35.3 million in 2000. Latinos of voting age who are U.S. citizens number an estimated 21 million.

Though as a whole Latinos tend more often than not to vote for Democrats over Republicans, they have proven to be willing to give substantial support to an appealing Republican candidate.

George W. Bush took 40 percent of the Latino vote, nationally, in 2004. A majority of Latinos voted for Obama in 2008, but many have grown disenchanted over his handling of immigration reform as well as the economy.

Democrats are pushing back at the GOP Hispanic outreach campaign with a message to Latinos that Republicans have stood in the way of the passage of an comprehensive immigration reform bill that would address border security as well as provide some undocumented immigrants with a chance to legalize their status.

On Wednesday, they balked at the GOP campaign targeting Hispanics in the Southwest.

An email sent by the Democratic National Committee responding to the GOP media campaign said “The RNC spent a whopping $7,500 on a new ad nationally and in three states attacking the President on the economy.”

“While President Obama looks to find sensible solutions to get our fiscal house in order,” said the statement by DNC Communications Director Brad Woodhouse, “the Republican Party and its candidates for president continue to play politics with our economy and are fighting to protect the same budget-busting tax breaks and loopholes for corporate jet owners, oil companies, and hedge fund managers that got us into this current mess.”

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, Nevada has 224,000 eligible Hispanic voters, making them 14 percent of all eligible voters in the state. New Mexico has 525,000, making them 38 percent of all eligible voters there. And Colorado has 434 eligible Latino voters, who are 13 percent of all the state’s eligible voters.

In each of the three states, Hispanics have flexed their political muscles.

In Nevada, they played a major role in helping Democratic Sen. Harry Reid get re-elected last year. And Latino Republicans are now the governors of New Mexico and Colorado.

On Monday, the Republican State Leadership Committee unveiled an initiative they said would work to recruit, train and support Latino candidates for legislative seats in states across the country.

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Elizabeth Llorente is the Politics Editor/Senior Reporter for Fox News Latino, and can be reached at Elizabeth.Llorente@Foxnewslatino.com. Follow her on https://twitter.com/Liz_Llorente

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