By Steve Holland
FORT WORTH, Texas (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, scrambling to boost his support among Hispanics, cast himself as a solution to high unemployment rates and said President Barack Obama's administration had been "particularly hard" on Hispanics.
Romney's comments - and his avoidance of any mention of immigration issues - were the latest sign that the former Massachusetts governor is relying on an economic argument to try to cut into Obama's sizable lead in surveys of Hispanic voters.
Recent polls have indicated Romney trails the Democratic president by more than 30 percentage points among Hispanics, and Republican officials have acknowledged he needs to significantly increase his support in this growing ethnic population to win the presidency in the November 6 election.
When Obama was elected in 2008, about two-thirds of Hispanics backed him over Republican John McCain.
Polls have indicated that many Hispanic voters have been alienated by strict immigration laws passed by Republican-led legislatures.
Republicans in Congress have also opposed the DREAM Act, which would create a path to U.S. citizenship for immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children.
To deal with illegal immigration, Romney has said he favors a "self-deportation" policy, meaning that illegal immigrants restricted from working in the United States would leave the country because of their inability to find a job.
On the campaign trail, however, Romney has generally avoided the immigration issue and focused on attacking Obama policies he says have driven up unemployment - particularly among Hispanics, whose 11 percent jobless rate outstrips the 8.2 percent national average.
"This Obama economy particularly has been hard on Hispanic businesses and Hispanic Americans," Romney said in a speech in Fort Worth, Texas on Tuesday, part of his pitch for lower taxes and reduced government regulation to help create jobs.
"I can tell you, if I'm the next president of the United States, I'll be the president for all Americans and make sure the economy is good for all Americans, Hispanic and otherwise."
NEW VIDEO FROM ROMNEY'S CAMPAIGN
In sticking with an economic pitch, Romney is figuring that finding jobs is far more important to the nation's roughly 50 million Hispanics than finding solutions for how to deal with the 12 million or so illegal immigrants in the United States.
However, it is unclear whether that logic will help Romney cut into Obama's support among Hispanics, who make up about 16 percent of the U.S. population.
Romney's campaign released a new Spanish-language web video, titled "Dismal," that said Romney believes that rising unemployment and more Hispanics in poverty is not the "right path" for our country.
The Obama campaign fired back, saying that under Obama's leadership, the jobless rate among Hispanics had dipped almost 2 percentage points in the last 27 months.
"Hispanics stand to lose the most from Romney's insistence on the same failed economic policies that created the economic crisis," the Obama campaign said in a statement.
Romney, on a two-day fundraising trip to Texas, made one of his first lengthy references to Obama's predecessor, Texas Republican George W. Bush.
Bush has said he backs Romney but, unlike his father, former President George H.W. Bush, he has not formally endorsed Romney because he wants to stay out of election-year politics.
Obama has blamed Bush for leaving him with an economic crisis and cites the severity of it as the main reason why job growth has been slow.
Obama and Bush appeared together last week at a warm White House ceremony for the unveiling of Bush's presidential portrait.
"George W. Bush was at the White House for the unveiling of his painting last week. He's always an easy target, and so he's blamed, although after three and a half years, people have figured out this is Obama's economy, not George Bush's economy," Romney said.
(Editing by David Lindsey and David Brunnstrom)