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Four months before Election Day, and immigration is still a hot topic for Mitt Romney’s campaign. The way he’s handling the topic, it’s sure to remain a heated question throughout the summer heading toward November.
In an already-infamous interview with Newsmax last week, Romney announced what appeared to be a new position on immigration — until his campaign staffers corrected their candidate for misstating his own position.
The issue flared up again at another closed door fundraiser for Romney, with both News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch and Univision CEO Randy Falco criticizing the candidate’s limp handling of the issue. Falco chastised Romney for not taking a stand on Obama’s DREAM relief announcement, while Murdoch told him he needed to fight harder for the Latino vote.
How did Romney respond? According to Maggie Haberman of POLITICO, he admitted that he “took some positions in the primary” that could hurt him with Latinos in the general election, but promised that he is “not going to be a flip-flopper.” In other words, Romney is determined not to go back on extremist positions he took during the primary not because those stances are what he believes in, but because it would make him look bad.
That was a costly decision. In June, Latino Decisions and America’s Voice released the results of a new Latino battleground poll, showing that Romney trails Obama in every state polled by significant margins (AZ, CO, FL, NV, VA). The President’s decision to grant work permits to DREAM-eligible young people–and Romney’s garbled response to that–as well as the Supreme Court’s decision on SB 1070, and Romney’s overall handling of immigration policy, have only improved the situation for Obama. Romney lost 10 percentage points in the overall ballot, and enthusiasm for voting has shot up among Latinos—meaning he is poised to win a smaller share of a larger pool of Latino voters. After all, it’s not just the percentage of Latino voters choosing one party or another that matters; it’s also number of voters who show up at the polls.
It didn’t have to be this way. Had Romney taken a more nuanced approach to immigration during the primary—instead of proudly pledging to veto the DREAM Act and embracing the Lamar Smith/Kris Kobach “self-deportation” fantasy—he wouldn’t be in this position today. After all, only a small percentage of Republican primary voters say immigration is their top issue, while most Latinos see it as a defining, personal issue. (What’s more, even Republicans tend to favor comprehensive immigration reform, and Independents and other swing voters are even more strongly on board.)
According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:
Mitt Romney desperately wants the immigration issue to go away for the election cycle. But his continued mishandling of the issue is helping to keep it in the headlines. For that, he has only himself to blame. Romney chose the wrong faction to align with early on. More than an Etch-a-Sketch, he needs a time machine. Only that would allow him to go back and undo that fateful decision – one that could make him unelectable this fall.
Mitt Romney has put himself between a nativist hard rock and demographic hard place. It’s not like he wasn’t warned. But Romney decided to burnish his right-wing bona fides and pander on immigration. That might have secured him a few nativist votes in South Carolina, but it’s going to lose him a lot of critically important Latinos votes in states that will determine the presidency.