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Romney Outreach to Latino Voters Remains an Uphill Climb

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Washington, DC – At the Republican National Convention, leaders in the party have taken a curious approach to Latino outreach: avoiding the issue of immigration; refusing to disavow hard-line immigration positions; lecturing Latino voters; blaming Democrats for the GOP’s self-inflicted problems with Latinos; and making embarrassingly transparent overtures to appeal to Latinos based on quirks of family history.

And that’s just the Romney family.

Mitt Romney continues to avoid discussing immigration in the general election. Meanwhile, Spanish-speaking son Craig Romney’s main message in his latest campaign ad is that his grandfather was born in Mexico – as if that should somehow trump the hard-line immigration stances that candidate Romney took in the primary season and refuses to disavow in the general election. To top things off, Ann Romney yesterday addressed the GOP’s Latino troubles by blaming Democrats and, curiously, Latino voters themselves.  At a Latino event she remarked, “So it really is a message that would resonate well if they could just get past some of their biases that have been there from the Democratic machines that have made us look like we don’t care about this community. And that is not true…We very much care about you and your families and the opportunities that are there for you and your families.”  Of course, Ann Romney’s diagnosis missed the rather important point that her husband has pledged to deny these “opportunities” to young immigrants by vetoing the DREAM Act and to make existing problems of immigrant families worse by pursuing a strategy of “self-deportation” – positions that scream “bias” to Latino voters.

Despite the whiff of desperation emanating from the Romney camp, a series of Republican voices and outside observers remain intent on trying to steer the campaign and the Republican Party away from its hostile, anti-immigrant direction, recognizing the lasting damage it is doing to the Republican brand among Latinos.  Among the latest examples:

  • Jeb Bush Continues to Crusade for Common Sense on Immigration: Despite his careful phrasing and attempts to avoid directly criticizing Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush refused to walk away from his comments earlier this week that the GOP has to “stop acting stupid” when it comes to Hispanics and immigration. Yesterday, in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Bush again carefully avoided direct criticism of Romney for his hard-line immigration positions, yet took the time to carefully explain how and why the GOP’s approach to the issue is both bad policy and bad politics.  In the interview, Bush noted that “Immigration is a gateway basically.  It’s a check-off point for Latino voters.  They want to hear about these bigger, broader issues…I think there’s a better way of saying we need to control the border.  Great countries need to secure their border for national security purposes, for economic purposes and for rule of law purposes.  And you can say that in a respectful way so you’re not turning people off.  And that’s my basic message is that in order to govern with conservative principles, you have to win.  In order to win, you have to recognize that the country is changing.  We’re getting older.  And we’re getting more diverse in our population.”
  • Ana Navarro Continues Outspoken Criticism of Romney’s Poor Outreach to Hispanics: At a panel discussion in Tampa yesterday, Republican strategist Ana Navarro again critiqued the Romney campaign’s inadequate outreach to Latino voters. Said Navarro in regards to Latino voters, if Romney “doesn’t beat McCain’s numbers, he’s not going to win. It’s that simple…This is not rocket science. And he’s got a very short window of time left.” Given Romney’s poor polling numbers with Hispanic votes, Navarro said Republicans should be “pressing the panic button.”
  • Mel Martinez Just Seems Disillusioned:  Florida’s former Republican Senator Mel Martinez – a man for whom the GOP’s rightward drift on immigration was a major factor in leaving electoral politics – yesterday criticized his party for its tone on immigration: “We went through a tough period of time when the primary did the exact opposite of what we needed to be doing, which polarized the electorate in a terrible way.”  He added, “I think the tone has been wrong. And I think the tone in the primary really did a lot of damage.”  He then proceeded to offer some curious political advice to Romney, telling him to ignore discussing immigration entirely during his RNC address and as much as possible over the final two months of campaigning.  Said Martinez, “What I would have him say is to speak to Hispanics in this country about what he’s going to do for jobs, particularly in their world…Romney’s] decided that he’s going to deal with this issue as a president and not as a candidate…That’s why I’m suggesting…don’t talk about immigration, but somehow find a way to connect.”  Perhaps Martinez believes that anything that comes out of Romney’s mouth regarding immigration is not likely to help him improve his low standing among Latinos.
  • Pundits and Editorial Boards Recognize Republican’s Self-Defeating Approach:  In just the latest spate of columns and editorials questioning Romney and the GOP’s Latino outreach plans, columnist and pundit Juan Williams and a new editorial in Bloomberg both capture the important dynamics at play at the intersection of immigration policy and politics.  Writes Williams in The Hill, “At a time when Republicans should be embracing the pragmatism and inclusion of Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, they are doubling down on the rigid immigration posture of Kris Kobach, Pete Wilson and Arizona laws that alienate Hispanics.  Even if Romney wins this election, the GOP’s troubled relationship with Latino voters at the Tampa convention is flashing like a road sign, warning of serious trouble ahead.” A Bloomberg editorial titled “For Republicans, It’s Diversity Now or Obscurity Later,” hits upon a similar theme: “It’s possible that Romney and his running mate, Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan, will succeed one last time with appeals to racial resentment and what amounts to an all-white electoral strategy.  But partisan voter laws and symbolic rebel yells promise a toxic legacy that could threaten the party for years to come…There are plenty of conservative fish in the electoral sea, and far from all are white.  But it’s hard to win the votes of people who think you are at best indifferent to their well- being.”

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