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The Romney Campaign’s Three-Step Dance with Latino Voters Continues

by Mahwish Khan on 06/06/2012 at 3:51pm

We know we’ve been writing a lot about Mitt Romney’s three-part strategy regarding Latino voters.  Yet everyday on the campaign trail seems to offer more fodder for our theory: while the Romney campaign is acutely sensitive to their problems with Latinos, they have no plans to engage on the subject of immigration.  Instead, the campaign and the candidate will:

  1. Keep a laser focus on the economy
  2. Maintain a precarious silence on immigration – even in front of Hispanic audiences
  3. Have surrogates and super PACs trash Obama’s failure to fulfill his promise to reform immigration (while setting records for deportations, as we outline here)

Steps 1 and 2 were on display yesterday and today:

Hey Hispanics, it’s the economy all the time, and immigration none of the time.  Yesterday, at a town hall event in Fort Worth, TX, at Southwest Office Systems (the largest minority-owned office-equipment dealer in the Southwest), Romney told the audience that a third of those living in poverty in the US are Hispanic, and blamed President Obama for making it hard for Hispanic entrepreneurs and small-businesses to expand their businesses.  As Evan McMorris-Santoro of Talking Points Memo highlights:

Mitt Romney’s pitch to various demographics has been remarkably, painfully consistent: Group X (women, young people, Hispanics) is being adversely affected by President Obama’s economic policies, and should vote for Romney instead…Romney didn’t mention immigration…Last month, Romney addressed the Latino Coalition, a conservative-leaning business group, and didn’t mention immigration once…Part of the reason, according to Hispanic advocates, is Romney’s hardline stance on immigration (including his pledge to veto the DREAM Act) and a cache of far-right supporters and advisers on immigration.

Romney cannot fully avoid the immigration elephant in the room. As McMorris-Santoro notes of yesterday’s town hall event:

Reality smacked Romney in the face in Texas, where a protester reportedly attacking Romney’s immigration stance was hauled out of the back of the rally by Texas police as the cameras rolled” (link to video).  As McKay Coppins of BuzzFeed reported, “an immigration demonstrator interrupted, waving a sign that included the words ‘self-deportation.’  She was quickly escorted out by police, and Romney continued unfazed, but it was a reminder of Romney’s biggest liabilities with the fast-growing voter demographic — a hard-line immigration stance, which includes opposition to proposed legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for college students and soldiers.

Romney Hispanic Steering Committee filled with supporters of immigration reform, but immigration is he who must not be named. The Romney Campaign announced the campaign’s Hispanic Steering Committee today.  The Committee is filled with prominent supporters of immigration reform, such as former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez, Former Sen. Mel Martinez (FL), Former Gov. Jeb Bush (FL), and others.  The word “immigration” was not included once in the accompanying press release, despite featuring quotes from seven prominent leaders discussing key 2012 issues for Latino voters.

Let’s forget about the past, shall we?  Additionally, yesterday offered a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the fact that while the Romney campaign may want to avoid having their candidate discuss immigration, it is both hyper-aware and worried about how the issue is dragging down Romney’s support among Latino voters.  Eliza Gray of The New Republic writes of a “revealing email exchange with a Romney advisor” who claimed that “Romney hadn’t run any ads on illegal immigration in the 2012 cycle.”  As Gray notes:

This immediately struck me as false—I clearly remember a Romney video last September that attacked Rick Perry for his defense of Texas’s policy of giving in-state college tuition to children of illegal immigrants…But when I reminded him about the video, the advisor clarified that it was a web video—not a television spot. This seems like splitting hairs, but is, I suppose, technically true. Fair enough, I guess.  What the exchange reflected, though, was a real—and justified—concern in the Romney camp: that the candidate’s anti-immigration rhetoric last fall will ruin his chance with Latinos this November…The fact that a Romney campaign advisor took the time to call out my mistake—and labored to remind me that there had been no television ads on illegal immigration in the 2012 cycle—shows just how sensitive the campaign is to any reminders of Romney’s anti-immigration rhetoric during the primary.  And as the Republicans continue to court Latino voters, we’re going to see a lot more of these efforts to backtrack—though they probably won’t all be clumsy as this TV-web distinction.

According to our Executive Director, Frank Sharry:

When it comes to Latino outreach, it seems that immigration is always on the Romney camp’s mind – and never on their lips.

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