A panel at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library prior to the Republican presidential debate focused on the problem for Republican candidates in California — the Latino vote.

Dan Schnur, head of USC’s Unruh Institute and the USC Dornsife/LA Times poll called the Latino vote President Barack Obama’s “life preserver” in the state. Referring to the recent poll he oversaw, Schnur said while Obama leads amongst white voters in California by a point or two, he holds more than a 2-1 lead with Latino voters giving the president a 15-point overall lead over a generic Republican opponent in the Golden State.

While Schnur argued that Republicans positioning on the immigration issue is hurting the party with Latinos, California Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo suggested Republicans face another challenge to capture the Latino vote — a difference in political philosophy. DiCamillo said Latinos look more favorably on government for help in securing education and health care. DiCamillo said Latinos generally share Obama’s vision of a more expansive government.

However, Schnur pointed out that a question asked in the USC/ Times poll, which skewers more heavily toward Latino voters, taken after the debt ceiling debate showed a more conservative side to Latino voters on the government spending issue. When Latino voters were asked if they preferred a stimulus solution to the economic problem or to cut spending to manage the deficit, the Latino respondents chose spending cuts by a healthy margin.

Not mentioned at the panel was a new Gallup Poll that shows Latino voters nationally have soured on the president. He now has 48% approval among this ethnic group, down from 82% at the beginning of his presidency. You can see poll results here.

Asked if the eventual Republican presidential nominee chose a Latino as a VP candidate would that put California in the Republican column, DiCamillo said that would not be enough. People vote for the head of the ticket he said, noting the difference in political philosophy between the general California Latino voter and Republican positions.