Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney addressed the Latino Coalition in Washington today in an apparent attempt to begin repairing his relationship with Latino voters.
Memo to Romney: to gain ground with Latino voters, you’re going to have to talk about immigration.
The focus of Romney’s speech today was education, which really gave him the perfect opportunity to approach immigration and the need for reform. In his remarks, Romney said, “Here in America, every child deserves a chance. It shouldn’t be reserved for the fortunate few.” Unmentioned was anything about the DREAM Act, which Romney has pledged to veto. Apparently, the Governor doesn’t count undocumented students among then children who “deserve a chance.” Unfortunately for Romney, this position is only bound to hurt him with Latino voters: 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.
Earlier this month, Romney’s campaign told the Washington Post that they will shore up their poor standing among Latino voters “by focusing on economic issues in their messaging to the Latino community, believing that will overcome damage done during the primaries by Romney’s hard-line stance on immigration.” Today’s remarks are an example of the Romney campaign in action, and how they are completely misreading the Latino electorate and how important the immigration debate is to this demographic.
While Latino voters view fixing the economy as priority #1 for the next president, they also view immigration as a defining issue and are turned off by anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric, in part due to their personal connection to the immigration debate. Fifty three percent of Latino voters nationwide personally know an undocumented worker, whether it be a relative, friend, or co-worker. Fifty nine percent of Latino voters are less likely to support a candidate whose economic positions they already agree with if that candidate supported anti-immigrant stances.
Given how out of touch Romney’s anti-immigrant rhetoric is with the priorities of the Latino vote demographic that he needs to court, it’s no wonder Romney wants to avoid discussing immigration. However, it is impossible to pretend that Romney can climb out of his current deficit among Latino voters by continuing to ignore the immigration elephant in the room.