DAVENPORT, Iowa (Reuters) - President Barack Obama predicted passage of immigration reform and a deficit-reduction deal, offering a fresh glimpse of his second-term agenda as he fights for votes in the final stretch of the tight race for the White House.
In a newspaper interview released on Wednesday ahead of an eight-state campaign blitz that began in Iowa, Obama also suggested Republicans were bolstering his re-election effort by alienating Hispanics ahead of the November 6 vote.
He told the Des Moines Register he was confident that comprehensive immigration reform would be approved next year and predicted he would strike a deal with Republicans in the U.S. Congress within six months to reduce the budget deficit.
He made the comments in an interview with the newspaper’s editors that was originally conducted off the record. After the newspaper complained about the restriction, the White House released a transcript.
“Since this is off the record, I will just be very blunt. Should I win a second term, a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community,” Obama said in the interview.
Republican challenger Mitt Romney has joined many in his party in taking a tough approach to illegal immigration, a stance that has helped Obama open a substantial lead in polls among Hispanics.
The growing electoral clout of Hispanics, who now comprise 16 percent of the U.S. population, could make a difference in election battleground states like Nevada, Colorado, Florida, Virginia and Ohio.
Two weeks before the election, Obama and Romney are locked in a close battle and are competing furiously for key voting blocs like Hispanics and women.
The effort to win women voters also came to the forefront on Wednesday with a controversy over comments about rape by Indiana Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock.
Obama’s campaign moved quickly to link Romney with Mourdock, who said in a debate with Democrat Joe Donnelly on Tuesday that pregnancy caused by rape is “something God intended to happen.”
Obama believed the comment was “outrageous and demeaning to women,” said campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki, adding that she was perplexed Romney would not demand an ad he filmed in support of Mourdock be taken off the air.
‘A REMINDER’ ON WOMEN‘S HEALTHCARE
“This is a reminder that a Republican Congress working with a Republican president, Mitt Romney, would feel that women should not be able to make choices about their own healthcare,” Psaki told reporters on the flight to Iowa.
Obama has criticized Romney for his opposition to abortion rights except in cases of rape, incest or the health of the mother. Romney’s campaign tried to distance him from Mourdock’s remark, but did not demand that the ad be pulled.
“Governor Romney disagrees with Richard Mourdock, and Mr. Mourdock’s comments do not reflect Governor Romney’s views,” Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul said. “We disagree on the policy regarding exceptions for rape and incest, but still support him.”
The Indiana controversy was reminiscent of the uproar over Missouri Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin’s comments earlier this year that women’s bodies have defenses against pregnancy after “legitimate rape.”
Polls show a deadlocked race nationally. A Reuters/Ipsos online tracking poll gave Romney a 1-point edge on Wednesday, 47 percent to Obama’s 46 percent.
With the race so close, both candidates were stepping up their campaign schedules. Obama plans to visit eight states in a two-day marathon and will sleep on Air Force One on Wednesday night. Romney will hit Nevada and Iowa on Wednesday before spending a full day in Ohio on Thursday.
Obama’s trip is designed to build momentum from two strong debate performances that put his campaign back on a solid footing after Romney bested him in their first debate.
Romney has narrowed the gap on Obama or moved slightly ahead in the eight swing states that will decide which candidate gains the 270 electoral votes needed to win. But in Ohio, a vital part of most victory scenarios for either candidate, a Time magazine poll showed Obama with a 5-point edge on Romney.
In Nevada, which has the highest state unemployment rate at 11.8 percent and has been among the leaders in home foreclosures, Romney warned that four more years of Obama’s leadership could be devastating for the economy.
“If he’s re-elected, I‘m convinced you’re going to see the values of your homes continue to bump along in the basement. And you’re going to find it hard to get a mortgage as well,” he told a rally in Reno, Nevada.
Romney has repeatedly criticized Obama for a slow economic recovery that has left more families in poverty, and the challenger’s running mate, Paul Ryan, on Wednesday called for strengthening education efforts and community-based programs to help lift those on the lowest rungs of the economy.
“America’s engines of upward mobility aren’t working the way they should,” Ryan said in a speech at Cleveland State University in Ohio. “There has to be a balance - allowing government to act for the common good, while leaving private groups free to do the work that only they can do.”
Billionaire real estate mogul and television personality Donald Trump, a persistent Obama critic who toyed with the idea of seeking the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, offered on Wednesday to give $5 million to the charity of Obama’s choice if he released his college and passport records.
Trump, who has questioned whether Obama’s birth certificate issued by the state of Hawaii is legitimate, did not say what he expected the records to reveal. However, he asserted in a YouTube video released via his Twitter and Facebook pages that Obama is the “least transparent president in the history of the country.”
Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Alistair Bell, Christopher Wilson and Paul Simao