Mitt Romney, the Republican Party's presumptive presidential candidate, made his first attempts to gain critical support from Latino voters this month, but failed to confront his own negative record on issues of high priority to Latino voters.
During a primary race stop in New Hampshire Jan. 9, he spoke of the need to "convince more Latino Americans to vote Republican" if the GOP wants to be competitive in November against the Democrats and Barack Obama, who is already campaigning for reelection.
Running against John McCain in 2008, Obama won 67 percent of the Latino vote.
On Jan. 11 Romney released his first Spanish-language television ad in Florida's Miami-Dade County, which is heavily populated by Latinos. In a televised Sept. 22 GOP debate, he attacked Texas Gov. Rick Perry for having signed into law 10 years ago a bill granting in-state tuition at the Lone Star State's public universities and colleges and reaffirmed that he would not support an immigration reform proposal to legalize any of the nation's 11 million undocumented persons.
In an interview with Univisión Jan. 11, Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) commented that if Romney is serious about trying to recruit Latinos to vote for him, he must change his tough stance on immigration. "He's right that he has to attract Latino voters. He's wrong in that every time he says something, he does
anything but attract Latinos to his candidacy," Becerra said.
Romney also stated during a Dec. 31 campaign stop in New Hampshire that, if elected, he would veto the DREAM Act.
On Jan. 11, the same day his campaign released the Spanish-language commercial, Romney enthusiastically accepted the endorsement of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who helped shape Arizona's and Alabama's immigration laws. Kobach is active with the Federation for American Immigration Reform, an organization the Southern Poverty Law Center has identified as a "hate group."
Adam Busto, president of Somos Republicans, points to Romney's endorsement from Kobach as well as his stances on immigration and the DREAM Act as examples of how the candidate is out of touch with issues important to Latinos. Somos Republicans is the country's largest such organization, with 6,000 members. Busto said that unless Romney changes his stance on the DREAM Act, the group would not support him if he becomes the Republican nominee. His group would even consider supporting a Democrat or a presidential candidate from another party, he told Hispanic Link.
Romney's release of the Spanish commercial comes just a couple weeks before the Jan. 31 primaries in Florida, where 22.5 percent of the state's population is Latino.
The commercial, titled Nosotros (Us), aired in Miami-Dade County where 72 percent of registered Republicans are Latino, mostly Cuban. It starts with Craig Romney, the former Massachusetts governor's son, talking in Spanish about his father's values. Congress members Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Díaz- Balart, along with Mario's brother and former congressman Lincoln Díaz-Balart,
elaborated on Romney's plans to create jobs and "restore this country's national security."
Romney won the Jan. 3 Iowa caucus and Jan. 9 New Hampshire primary. The next vote is Jan. 21 in South Carolina, where a recent poll shows a close contest brewing between Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Romney.
On Jan. 16 former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who ran third in New Hampshire, withdrew from the primary and endorsed Romney.
Gingrich concedes that if Romney wins in South Carolina, "he's probably going to be the nominee." He also points to how Romney’s campaign funding advantage gives him a boost. In the last three months of 2011, Romney raised $24 million while Ron Paul and Gingrich combined raised $22 million.
Busto states, "Any candidate that has the Latino support behind him could win the presidency" but Romney won’t get support from Republican Latinos "if he's going to veto the DREAM Act, like he claims, and if he's going to accept the support of people like Kris Kobach."
Somos Republicans is also calling for the Florida delegation in Congress to renounce its support of Romney.
Most analysts claim a GOP candidate must gain at least 40 percent of the Hispanic vote to win the White House. A Dec. 28 Pew Hispanic Center poll showed in a match-up with Obama, Romney would get 23 percent of that vote while President Obama would get 68 percent.
Griselda Nevárez is a reporter with Hispanic Link News Service in Washington, D.C.
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