Obama's standing with Latinos was reflected in the enthusiastic cheers and multiple standing ovations he received at NALEO. Better yet for him: the only subject that came close to generating as much fervor as his new policy on undocumented youth was his mention of the Affordable Care Act, a toxic subject in much of the country.
"I was very moved by it," said Mary Rose Wilcox, a Maricopa County supervisor from Phoenix, Ariz. "I saw a toughness that I had not seen the last time he came to NALEO and I like that a lot, because he has done so much -- in terms of not only what he did with the executive decision (on young immigrants) but also with the economy."
Her chief of staff, Terri Leija, said Obama's speech motivated her to get out the vote.
While Obama had a natural advantage at the conference, Romney benefitted from offering his own ideas for immigration reform in front of a polite, if unenthusiastic audience. His proposals, aimed in part at keeping families together and highly educated foreign students in the United States, allowed him to move away from his much-scorned "self-deportation" language and reintroduce himself as a general-election nominee sympathetic to the concerns of Latino voters.
"I was a little upset with him over some of the harshness with respect to immigration in the past, but what he said today was something I find appealing," said Juan Zapata, a self-described moderate Republican who chairs the NALEO Education fund. "Softening that rhetoric with regards to immigration will definitely go a long way towards helping Republicans."
If Romney's speech was part of the learning process of how to speak to Hispanic voters, "he's on the right track," said Longwood, Fla., city councilman Bob Cortes, a Republican.
Key to the satisfaction of several Republicans at the conference was a sense that Romney did not outright reject the ideas behind the DREAM Act, legislation that would create a path to citizenship to people brought to the United States illegally as children, if they pursue a college education or military service.
However, several Democrats -- including Obama -- pointed to Romney's emphatic opposition to the DREAM Act during the primary campaign. Many called Romney's ideas vague and accused him of deliberately avoiding saying whether he would overturn Obama's new policy of letting young undocumented immigrants apply for temporary deportation reprieves and work permits (Romney said in his speech he would propose comprehensive reform that would "supersede" Obama's order).
"This is clearly a contrast between action and words," said Texas State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, a Democrat. "We heard a bunch of great ideas about immigration policies, but we know that when Gov. Romney is fundraising in other parts of the country, he talks about vetoing the DREAM Act, building walls, doing things that take Latinos back for generations."