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Obama camp launches Latino push, hits Romney

With both sides eying one of the fastest-growing blocs in the American electorate, President Barack Obama's re-election campaign on Wednesday announced an aggressive outreach to Latino voters, pushing Democrats' reform proposals and casting Mitt Romney as "extreme" on immigration issues.

The new "Latinos for Obama" effort includes on-the-ground volunteer and staff outreach as well as Spanish-language ads slated to air in heavily Hispanic swing states Colorado, Florida, and Nevada.

Backers of the president hope that Romney's embrace of Arizona's controversial immigration law as well as his pledge to oppose the DREAM Act -- which would offer a path to citizenship for some children who were brought to the United States illegally at an early age -- will mobilize Latinos against the presumptive Republican nominee.

"This election is an opportunity in this country for the Latino community to send a message," said Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., on a conference call announcing the new push. "The reality is that we look at this as the civil rights issue of our time."

Opposition to the DREAM Act is "insulting" to Hispanic families, added San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who -- echoed by campaign manager Jim Messina -- labeled Romney's positions "the most extreme nominee that the Republican party has ever had on immigration."

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida has pushed for a "conservative alternative" to the DREAM Act, which would allow some young illegal immigrants to stay in the United States but would prevent them from attaining citizenship. Messina said Wednesday that the president has been focused on reviving the original legislation, which failed in the Senate by a narrow margin late in 2010, but added that the White House would work to "find common ground" with those on the other side of the aisle. 

The Republican National Committee announced its own Latino-focused program earlier this week, launching community outreach directors in Florida, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina and Virginia.  A key part of their message, said chairman Reince Priebus, is to highlight the impact the nation's sluggish economy has on the Hispanic community.

Hispanic voters favored Obama over Republican John McCain by an almost 2-1 margin in the 2008 presidential election. Nationally, the Hispanic vote in 2008 rose to 9 percent of the electorate, up from 8 percent in 2004, but turnout jumped by five points in swing states Colorado and Nevada and by nine points in New Mexico.