Washington – Latinos need to register and vote in higher numbers if they want to see their growing weight in the U.S. population translate into political influence, President Barack Obama said Wednesday, predicting the emergence "within my lifetime" of a "very competitive" Latino presidential hopeful.
"If you're voting at a low rate, then you are giving up some of your power," Obama said during a Latino-themed "Open for Questions" roundtable sponsored by Latino media websites.
The President answered questions asked by Latino online readers and viewers.
Obama said his jobs bill includes provisions that would reduce unemployment among Latinos, currently 11.3 percent compared with an overall national jobless rate of 9.1 percent.
Higher investment in infrastructure can create jobs for Latino construction workers hurt by the bursting of the housing bubble, and 250,000 Latinos who own small businesses stand to benefit from tax incentives in the proposed legislation, he said.
Asked about immigration reform, the president reaffirmed that it remains a priority for his administration, but pointed to the resistance of Republicans, who now control the House of Representatives.
"(I)n the past we've seen bipartisan support for comprehensive immigration reform. Unfortunately, over the last several years what you've seen is the Republican Party move away from support of comprehensive immigration reform," Obama said.
Recent polls show fewer than half of Latinos are inclined to cast ballots for the Democratic incumbent in 2012.
Latinos are the nation's largest minority and could be the decisive factor next year in swing states such as Florida, New Mexico and Colorado.
Though Latinos are seen as unlikely to switch their allegiance to the largely anti-immigration GOP, Democrats fear that disillusioned Latino voters could simply stay home in November 2012.
Obama addressed the issue of Latino political participation in response to a question about the possibility of a Latino vice president or president in the near future.
"I am absolutely certain that within my lifetime we will have a Hispanic candidate for president who is very competitive and may win," he said. "You just look at the demographics. The Latino population is growing faster than any other population."
The 2010 Census showed that Latinos now account for one in every six U.S. residents.
"With numbers comes political power," the president said, though adding, "we still have not seen the kinds of participation levels that are necessary to match up the numbers with actual political power."