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Romney's Last Chance With Latino Voters?

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Follow Frank Sharry on Twitter: www.twitter.com/franksharry

Boston, you have a problem.

Your guy, Mitt Romney, is losing badly with Latinos and it could cost him the election. Battleground states such as Nevada, Colorado, Florida and even Virginia are likely to swing Obama’s way if he keeps his current 66 percent – 29 percent lead among Latinos. And Boston, 29 percent is a far cry from your own campaign’s stated goal, declared last month by your campaign’s Hispanic Leadership Team co-chair Jose Fuentes, of 38 percent.

If you really think you are going to jump some 10 points and peel some five points from Obama with Hispanic voters, it’s probably way too late. But this coming week gives you a chance to at least take a run at it. On Monday, your guy speaks before the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles. On Tuesday, he will take questions from Univision anchors Jorge Ramos and Maria Elena Salinas in Miami.

Now, let’s engage in a little real speak, Boston. If Mitt goes to Los Angeles and Miami with the same talking points he’s used with Latino audiences to date, don’t even bother showing up. Heck, if that’s the plan, the Obama campaign would probably be willing to pay your airfare.

Let’s review. You guys were so intent on getting to the right of Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich in the primaries that you adopted the most radical positions of any presidential nominee in a generation. Your guy promised that he would veto the DREAM Act. He said Arizona’s crackdown should serve as a “model” for the nation. You bear-hugged Kris Kobach, the author of the hateful Arizona and Alabama laws (and more recently a coddler of birtherism), and championed his odious “self-deportation” strategy for undocumented immigrants — an approach that calls for nothing short of a purge of millions of Latino immigrants who are currently settled in the U.S.

So extreme were you that it caused alarm bells to go off with some big-name Republicans who support you. Remember when John McCain and Lindsey Graham called your guy during the primaries to tell him to knock off the “self-deportation” talk before his Hispanic numbers headed towards single digits? And then there’s Rupert Murdoch, who has made no secret of the fact that he believes that Mitt has to stand up to the far right and move to the center on immigration or he will lose Hispanic voters and the election.

Well, maybe if you had actually used the Etch-a-Sketch rather than just talking about it, you might have made a little progress. But you are so terrified of reviving the flip-flopper reputation and of getting into hot water with the loud but not large nativist wing of the GOP, that your general election approach has been only slightly less appalling than your opportunistic lurch to the right in the primaries.

Now the strategy involves Mitt going before Hispanic audiences, talking only about the economy and avoiding mention of the “I” word. He neither disavows his hard line primary positions, nor reasserts them. He’s descended into a vagueness that allows Obama and others to define him — which is easy to do given the multitude of video clips of him trash talking “illegals” in the primaries.

As you well know, the one time Mitt did make a foray into immigration policy was in June before a bipartisan group of Latino elected officials at the NALEO conference in Orlando, Fla. He advocated legal immigration reforms for skilled workers. He advocated legal immigration reforms for families waiting to be reunited. But with regard to his hardline positions on unauthorized immigration, he said zip, zilch, nada. He did say something about being “civil and resolute.” But, given his radical stances that he has yet to disavow, all that statement did was send shivers down many a Latino spine.

And to make matters worse, when asked what he would do as president with the Obama newly-announced initiative to protect up to 1.7 million DREAMers, young people who grew up in America and aspire to be citizens but have had no immigration line to get into, your guy hasn’t been able to come with a clear answer.He did say he would he would seek to replace the temporary measure with a permanent one, but failed to specify whether the “permanent solution” would be a path to legal status or a path to deportation. Again, given his radical stances that he has yet to disavow…

So now you are sending your guy to a Hispanic business group’s conference to make a speech and then to the lion’s den with Jorge Ramos, arguably the most popular and influential Latino in the country. What’s your plan? More of the same? Talk tough about the Obama economy and avoid mention of your awful stances on an issue that is personal, defining and mobilizing for most Latino voters?

Or are you going to do what you should have done long ago and declare that our economy benefits from hard-working immigrants at all levels and it’s time to deal practically and humanely with the presence of 11 million immigrants in the country without papers? Need I remind you that was Mitt 1.0’s position in 2006 — until he started musing about the prospect of being the GOP presidential nominee and contorting himself into a born-again right-winger.

I have to be honest. None of us are holding our breath. We think your campaign lacks the courage, the convictions and the smarts to stand up for a center-right version of immigration reform. We think you are too scared that some yahoo like Kris Kobach will start whining about how un-conservative you are. We think you have gone all in on a whites-only strategy.

Maybe that’s all you can do. At this point. Truth is, instead of an Etch-a-Sketch, what your campaign really needs is a time machine — one that would transport you back to the primaries where, if you had you adopted a more nuanced set of immigration positions, you would have more room now to move towards the center.

Assuming you stick to your newfound love of consistency (at least consistent with Mitt 2.0), get ready for another bumpy week. Don’t be surprised by a chilly reception at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, many of whom are small business men and women proud of their immigrant roots and families. And don’t be shell-shocked when Jorge Ramos tears your guy a new one. Also, don’t be surprised if your Hispanic numbers head south afterwards.

By the way, did you hear that Jeb Bush is going to publish a book next year on the need for comprehensive immigration reform? Just a few weeks after he said that the GOP should stop “acting stupid” when it comes to immigration policy? Guess he’s figured you guys out, too. He knows that the Republicans are not going to see the inside of the White House until they get right with Latinos, and that they won’t get right with Latinos until they get right on immigration.

Anyway, enjoy this week. I know we will.

Cross-posted at Huffington Post and Daily Kos.