Rather Than Calling Joe Arpaio, Romney Should Call Meg Whitman for Advice on What NOT to Do on Immigration
In last night’s Republican presidential debate, Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) continued his hard right tack on immigration, trying to portray himself as the true immigration hard liner in comparison to fellow GOP top contender, Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX). In the debate, Romney said, “With regards to illegal immigration, of course we build a fence and of course we do not give in-state tuition credits to people who come here illegally. That only attracts people to come here and take advantage of America’s great beneficence.”
As Frank Sharry of America’s Voice responds: “As if a fence can beat tunnels and ladders, and as if undocumented immigrants risk their lives to come to the U.S. so their children can pay in-state tuition rates at public institutions of higher education. And he’s supposed to be the thinking man’s candidate? Romney’s rightward tack on the issue and plan to attack Perry on immigration is remarkably boneheaded. Didn’t he try that against John McCain four years ago? How did that work out?”
Driving the primary conversation further to the right will not help the Republican nominee repair the GOP’s tattered brand image among Latino voters. Furthermore, racing to the right on immigration also directly contradicts the Romney campaign’s attempt to portray their candidate as the Republican candidate best equipped and most electable in a general election race against President Obama – an assessment shared by many in Republican establishment circles, according to a story in today’s New York Times. It’s not as if Governor Perry is some sort of moderate in the mold of Ronald Reagan. As America’s Voice points out in our new report Why Do Elephants Put their Heads in the Sand? Romney is but a half-step to the right of Perry, who makes the equally fact-free assertion that we can only consider broader immigration reform once we “secure the border first.”
Today, Romney plans to call notorious anti-Latino Sheriff Joe Arpaio, presumably to seek an endorsement that would shore up his anti-immigrant bona fides. Instead, he would be wiser to place a call to failed 2010 California Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman. Whitman’s fumbling hypocrisy on immigration in her primary destroyed her prospects in the general election. After initially portraying herself as a pro-immigration Republican, Whitman tacked hard right after provocation from primary opponent Steve Poizner. Instead of hanging tough and presenting herself as a sensible Republican on the issue, Whitman panicked and ran ads stating that she opposed “amnesty” and “benefits” such as being able to attend public universities. She then rolled out former Proposition 187 leader Governor Pete Wilson as her spokesperson on immigration, featuring Wilson in an ad saying “Meg will be tough as nails on illegal immigration.” Then, having given up so much ground in the primary, she tried and failed to re-position on the issue in the general election. Whitman lost the Latino vote to Jerry Brown by a stunning margin of 86-13% and lost the election to Gov. Jerry Brown (D-CA).
Unfortunately for Gov. Romney and despite assertions to the contrary from anti-immigrant leaders, Latino voters see immigration as a top priority because it is an issue that affects their families, their future and their sense of being fully accepted in America. For example, polling released in June 2011 by Latino Decisions and impreMedia found that 51% of Latino voters think immigration reform is the single most important issue facing the Latino community and important for Congress and the President to address. Polling of Latino voters in twelve states by Bendixen & Amandi found that 72% of Latino voters would not consider voting for a congressional candidate who was in favor of forcing most undocumented immigrants to leave the country (vs. only 19% of Latino voters who would consider it). And in 2010, Latino anger toward anti-immigrant Republicans helped save the U.S. Senate for the Democrats.
At least four states with significant Hispanic electorates – Florida, Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico – are among the key swing states that will decide who wins in 2012. Most experts predicting that Republicans have to win 40% of the Latino vote to defeat Obama. Added Sharry, “Romney’s attempt to outflank the right-leaning Perry on his right is likely to leave him in no-man’s land come the general election.”
America’s Voice — Harnessing the power of American voices and American values to win common sense immigration reform.