04/18/2012 01:26 pm ET

Obama's Education, Economic Policies Help Latinos, Campaign Argues

WASHINGTON -- The Obama campaign launched an effort on Wednesday to fight back against Republicans who say the president's policies have been bad for Latinos.

Latinos suffer higher unemployment -- 10.3 percent as of March 2012 -- than the nation at large. About 27 of the Hispanic population is under the official poverty level, versus about 15 percent of the total U.S. population. (By comparison, 10 percent of the white population is under the official poverty level.)

But campaign surrogate Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) told reporters the president is committed to improving conditions for Latinos and the population in general.

"President Obama is someone who has been fighting to ensure every middle class American has the economic security to stay there," Menendez said on a call with reporters.

The Obama campaign released a series of 30-second Spanish-language ads on Wednesday touting the president's education policies, with supporters who said they had been personally impacted. Those ads highlight the fact that the Obama administration doubled funding for Pell Grants to help almost 2 million Latino students to go to college, the campaign said in a press release.

It's a message the administration has pushed before. In a March 2011 booklet, the Obama administration highlighted a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report that said the 2009 stimulus kept 1.9 million Latinos above the poverty line.

A quarter of American children are Latino, but the demographic has "the lowest education attainment levels" in the nation, according to an April 2011 report from the White House. That document also laid out Obama's plan for improving that gap.

Two-thirds of Latino voters chose Obama in 2008, a number that helped him win over Republican challenger Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), but enthusiasm has dropped since that year. Still, Obama leads potential Republican challengers among Latino voters.

This time around, Republicans want to push the opposite message to the one Democrats are delivering on Latinos and the economy. A source close to the Romney campaign told HuffPost in January that the candidate will focus on economic issues when targeting Latino voters, a strategy the Republican National Committee also plans to adopt.

"The number one issue for Hispanic voters is jobs and the economy, and we're talking about all of the issues with Hispanic voters," RNC Director of Hispanic Outreach Bettina Inclan told reporters on Monday.

The RNC also announced they would establish state Hispanic outreach supporters in Nevada, North Carolina, Colorado, Florida, Virginia and New Mexico.

Obama campaign manager Jim Messina was unimpressed with the RNC effort.

"I feel very sorry for those organizers on the ground who take those jobs," Messina said on the call Wednesday. "I think they are naming one person per state while we have had operations on the ground for over a year."

Anna Staver contributed reporting.