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First Week of General Election Becomes Latino Voter Week

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With Mitt Romney having all-but-officially sewn up the Republican presidential nomination, the consensus of pundits and party strategists alike is that we’ve moved into general election season.  As Talking Points Memo noted, “After a week in which both sides aggressively courted women voters, this week is shaping up to be all about wooing the Latino electorate.”  It appears that a range of other pundits and observers have reached a similar conclusion.  For example:

  • Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post Lays Out the Stakes Regarding Latino Voters in 2012:  Veteran political writer Tumulty notes how both parties have turned their attention to Latino voters this week and assesses the big questions facing both presidential candidates, writing that although President Obama will need to generate substantial levels of Latino turnout, “Romney’s problems run deeper.  During the primaries, Romney ran to the right of his GOP rivals on immigration, criticizing Texas Gov. Rick Perry for signing a law that would grant in-state college tuition rates to illegal immigrants and clashing with former House speaker Newt Gingrich over whether there should be what Gingrich called ‘some level of humanity’ in allowing long-term illegal residents to stay in the country.  Romney called Arizona’s controversial immigration enforcement law — which is set for argument next week before the Supreme Court — ‘a model’ for the nation.”
  • Matt Barreto and Al Cardenas Cite the GOP’s Crucial “40% Threshold” Among Latino Voters: The Washington Post piece also includes quotes from two experts each citing 40% as a threshold of support for Mitt Romney to win from Latino voters.  Al Cardenas, a former Florida Republican Party chairman and a Romney Hispanic outreach advisor, said, “The key to this thing is what percentage of Hispanic votes we get in Florida or Virginia or Ohio or Colorado or Nevada or New Mexico…He needs to get close to 40 percent in six states.”  Matt Barreto, political scientist and principal of Latino Decisions polling firm, told Tumulty, “I cannot see any possible path right now for Romney to get anywhere near 40 percent [of the Hispanic vote] outside Florida…They have done so much damage. . . . It will be very difficult for them to backpedal that.”
  • Ruy Teixeira Touts Importance of Latino Voters, New Latino Decisions Tool to Measure their Impact: Demographics and polling expert Ruy Teixeira, long a champion of the idea that Latino  voters are reshaping the electorate, highlights a new Latino Decisions model for assessing Latino voters’ impact in key 2012 states, writing on Univision’s website, “As we know, presidential elections are decided on the state level.  Is there any way for us to know how significant Romney’s anemic performance among Latinos might be in the contest for electoral votes?   One way to do this is look at how large the Latino electorate is likely to be in a given state and then estimate how much Latino support Romney would need to carry the state given reasonable assumptions about the GOP level of support among non-Latinos.  This is exactly the approach taken by Matt Barreto and Gary Segura of Latino Decisions (LD) in a recent analysis published on their website.”
  • NBC’s Political Team: Romney Could Have a Meg Whitman Problem on Immigration: In their “First Read” political roundup, NBC’s political team notes, “there’s a challenge here for Romney, and it’s the same one Meg Whitman faced in 2010: How do you move back to center on immigration after running so hard to the right during the primary?”  The NBC team goes on to contrast Romney’s potential general election appeal to women voters with Romney’s potential appeal to Latinos, writing, “Romney has the potential to fix his problem with female voters; after all, it’s not really his problem but rather the GOP’s.  And he does have a story to tell here (wife Ann, the women he appointed in Massachusetts).  But when it comes to immigration, this is an issue where he’s been consistent over the past five years as a way to prove his conservative bona fides (first against McCain, then against Perry and Gingrich).  These are his words, not just the party’s rhetoric being attached to him, and it’s going to be hard to take the back.  Again, we’ll remind you that Obama’s Latino path (CO, NM, NV, and VA) is a not-so-hard way for him to get to 270 electoral votes — without having to win Ohio or Florida (which also has LOTS of Latinos).”
  • Andrew Sullivan Predicts Romney Will Continue to Pander to Anti-Immigrant Extremists:  Political blogger Sullivan writes skeptically about Romney’s ability to reinvent himself on immigration in the general election, noting that the more likely outcome is that Romney continues to pander to extremists: “Watching him move from his primary position is going to be fascinating. It’s odd but Romney seems both the most protean and yet most rigid of politicians. My bet is that he remains a captive of a party intent on radicalism at home and abroad. And he will aim to please them.”
  • Obama Campaign Releases First Spanish Language Ads, Promises to Make Immigration Reform Year One Priority of a Second Term:  The Obama re-election campaign announced its first Spanish language ads yesterday, focused on “first person accounts from Obama for America organizers sharing their personal stories of how the president’s policies have empowered Latino families and communities.”  The ads, running in Colorado, Florida, and Nevada, demonstrate that “the president’s campaign is taking the initiative in spending early to define the 2012 race among the Latino voters he must win by a massive margin,” in the words of POLITICO.  Over the weekend, President Obama conducted interviews with Spanish language television outlets Univision and Telemundo, during which he promised to make immigration reform a year one priority of a potential second term and lamented Republican obstruction on the issue, noting “I’ve got a majority of Democrats who are prepared to vote for it, and I’ve got no Republicans who are prepared to vote for it.”  However, the President has yet to acknowledge the fact that his initial promise on immigration has not yet been realized, and the most well-known “accomplishment” his Administration has with regard to immigration is a record number of deportations.
  • Meanwhile, RNC Chair Priebus Thinks the Way to Appeal to Latino Voters is By Ignoring Immigration:  Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Reince Priebus takes to POLITICO to write an op-ed about Republican appeals to Latino voters, including the “dramatic expansion of its Hispanic Outreach program,” and the hiring of “state directors for Hispanic Outreach” in six 2012 battleground states.  Chairman Priebus then devotes the rest of his 667 word piece to policy issues and the reasons why Latino voters should favor Republicans.  However, he couldn’t find space to include the word “immigration” a single time in his writing.  While Latino voters, like all Americans, view fixing the economy as job one for the next president, they also view immigration as a threshold issue and are turned off by anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric, in part due to their personal connection to the immigration debate.  For example, 2011 polling from Latino Decisions and impreMedia of Latino voters nationwide found that 53% of poll respondents reported personally knowing an undocumented person, whether a relative, friend, or co-worker.  January 2012 polling by Latino Decisions on behalf of Univision/ABC News found that 54% of Latino voters were less likely to support a candidate who promised to veto the DREAM Act – as Mitt Romney did during the primary campaign.  Given the hardline tone of the Republican primary season on immigration, perhaps Chairman Priebus was recognizing that it would be difficult to spin his way to a Republican advantage on the issue.