While it appears to be firing up Hispanic voters and making Democrats more comfortable with the president's re-election campaign strategy, Barack Obama's Friday immigration gambit is generally regarded as risky. It could help Mitt Romney lock down the restive Republican base, and GOP strategists tell me it might help them pick off blue collar Democrats in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania.
But Mitt Romney's refusal to stake out a clear position on the DREAM Act, an effort to keep the conservatives in his party outraged by illegal immigration happy, is itself a risky bet: that he'll do so well among white voters that it won't matter how badly Obama wallops him among Hispanics.
"The Romney campaign is making a bet that they can survive doing so poorly among that demographic group," said John Weaver, the Republican strategist behind John McCain's 2000 campaign and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman's abortive effort this time around. "They've bet the ranch that Romney can win just based on a recovery that’s limping along."
If the economy improves before election day, letting Obama outflank them on immigration—and dominate even more than he would have otherwise among Hispanic voters—could come back to bite Republicans. Weaver, ever the party apostate, says that if the GOP wakes up to defeat on Nov. 7, it might bring about the soul searching he and other moderates have been clamoring for for some time now.
"You can’t ignore the fastest growing market in the country," Weaver said. "That’s the bet they’ve made, and given the position they took in 2008 and the primary process this time, I can understand it. But it is high risk for the party."