WOODBRIDGE, Va. — In his first Spanish-language spot heading into the general election, Mitt Romney vowed to end “Obamacare’’ on Day One of his presidency — a bold and risky message he continues to deliver to Latino voters, who overwhelmingly back the federal health care law.
President Obama, meanwhile, hopes the intense concern over health care issues expressed by Latinos will help coalesce his support among the critical voting bloc. To extol the benefits of his health care law, the president’s reelection campaign has rolled out Spanish-language ads in states where Latinos make up a significant portion of the electorate, including Florida and Colorado.
Both campaigns will have much to say about the state of the economy, which stands out as the most pressing issue among most Americans. But for Latinos, the availability of health care is also deeply important — and that concern fuels their strong support for Obama’s health care law.
A Quinnipiac University Poll — released just days after the Supreme Court upheld the bulk of the law — showed 37 percent of whites and 52 percent of Hispanics supporting the law. That echoed a Latino Decisions poll in January that showed that 57 percent of Latinos believe the president’s health care law should be allowed to stand, with just 28 percent saying that it should be repealed.
Latinos have much at stake — nearly 1 in every 3 Latinos is medically uninsured, a rate higher than blacks, whites, or Asian Americans, according to the Census Bureau, making the group receptive to the health care issue. In 2010, 30.7 percent of Latinos lacked insurance, compared with 11.7 percent of whites.
‘If [Romney is ] going out to the community and tells people he wants to repeal Obamacare, he needs to say what he’s going to replace it with.’
The 15 million Latinos without insurance include Daniel Montalvo, a manager of Salon Hispano in Woodbridge.
“You cannot be a first-world country without providing health care,” said Montalvo. Because his wife has diabetes, procuring private health insurance is unaffordable. “I was so happy to see somebody have the guts to do something about it.”
He is again shopping around for coverage, he said, hoping to find premiums well below the $900 a month he had previously been quoted.
“I’m happy the [Supreme Court] upheld the law,” he said. “I can’t afford health insurance because the premiums are so high. I’m expecting things to get better, for premiums to get more affordable.”
According to Matt A. Barreto, a political scientist and a cofounder of Latino Decisions, a polling firm specializing in tracking Latino attitudes, health care is inextricably linked to the financial well-being of Latinos and other families coping with spiraling costs.
“The economy is a concern, but it does not absorb 100 percent of people’s attention span. They are thinking about a lot of other things, including health care,” he said.
“You’re already seeing the president use health care in his Spanish-language ads,” Barreto said. The Obama campaign knows “that health care is an important issue and that Latinos care about it.”
Some of Obama’s Spanish-language health care ads have begun airing in Virginia and Ohio, even though Latinos make up fewer than 5 percent of voters in each state, two of the most heavily contested and where the winning margin could be decided by a sliver. “We’re not taking any votes for granted,” said Gabriela Domenzain, a spokeswoman for the Obama campaign.
With both sides aggressively courting Latino votes, it struck some pollsters as odd for Romney to attempt to use his opposition to the new health law in Spanish-language ads to pry away votes from Obama.
In an e-mail to the Globe, the Romney campaign branded the federal health care law as a jobs killer that has done little to lower premiums, while adding financial burdens to the federal government and families. “Instead of driving up the debt and imposing burdensome new taxes, Mitt Romney will undertake real health care reform that empowers families and their doctors, not bureaucrats in Washington,” said Valentina Weis, a Romney spokesman.
But acknowledging Latinos’ concern about health care issues, even some Romney supporters caution the former Massachusetts governor about campaigning too aggressively against the health care law within Latino communities.
“If he’s going out to the community and tells people he wants to repeal Obamacare, he needs to say what he’s going to replace it with,” said Jennifer S. Korn, the executive director of the Hispanic Leadership Council, a self-described right-of-center group promoting Latino empowerment. “Otherwise, they are going to adopt the message from the Obama campaign — that the Republicans are going to take away the health care that we have.”
She said boosters of the health care law are too optimistic about how its provisions will benefit Americans and the economy.
For undecided Latino voters like Elquin Reyes, the health care issue could be a key factor in deciding between Obama and Romney.
“Health care . . . is a big problem,” said Reyes, who immigrated to the United States as a teenager from Honduras and now lives in Woodbridge, a Virginia community with a booming Latino population just outside the Washington beltway. “Insurance is too expensive. I spend a lot of my money paying for it,” he said, noting that at least $600 of his monthly salary goes for coverage he gets through his employer for himself, his wife, and child.
Until the former landscaper landed a mechanics job that offered health insurance, Reyes said he had to endure untreated sickness because of the high cost of medical care. “Sometimes you don’t go to the doctor because you’re so scared about the bill,” he said.
Though Reyes is now insured, the concerns persist: Friends, relatives, and neighbors remain without coverage, he said, just one sickness away from economic ruin.