This week, the Mitt Romney campaign cranked up the Latino volume in its efforts to better its candidates' current poll numbers among what is becoming a key voting demographic. The release of campaign ads with clunky Spanish-language statements and the announcement of the Juntos con Romney outreach team certainly highlight the fact that Romney needs to make better inroads with the US Latino vote.
Granted, this is the same candidate who during a very intense primary season, aligned himself with the neo-nativist voices of Kris Kobach and Joe Arpaio, as well as the same candidate who has publicly opposed the DREAM Act as it is crafted right now.
Now, with the annoucement of his Juntos con Romney team, Romney seems to be backtracking more and more, as the campaign tries to figure out: how do we get our polls numbers up with US Latino voters to neutralize President Obama's commanding 30+-point lead in polls? The question remains: we know that Romney is now avoiding immigration topics more and more and focusing on thje economy, but has the damage been done with US Latino voters?
It is interesting to note, as reported by Boston.com, that the Juntos con Romney outreach team has several supporters of the DREAM Act, including Florida Senator Mel Martínez, who co-sponsored a 2009 DREAM Act version. This is what Boston.com reported:
A press release announcing Romney’s Hispanic Steering Committee focused on the economy and did not mention immigration. It made four references to “the American Dream” but used the phrase only in the context of Romney’s promise to outperform President Obama in job creation and personal income. “
With so many Hispanic families struggling, we need a leader who will make the American Dream a reality for all,” Puerto Rico Governor Luis Fortuño, an honorary chairman, said in the release.
Part of Romney’s immigration strategy, however, centers on worsening the struggles of some Hispanics — those who come to the US illegally.
“The answer is self-deportation, which is people decide they can do better by going home because they can’t find work here because they don’t have legal documentation to allow them to work here,” Romney said during a January debate in Tampa.
Romney’s plan drew criticism from New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez. “ ‘Self-deport?’ What the heck does that mean?” Martinez said in an interview with The Daily Beast last month. “I have no doubt Hispanics have been alienated during this campaign.” Despite the clash — and the fact that Martinez supports a DREAM Act-style pathway to citizenship — Romney named her an honorary chairwoman of his committee. Martinez said in the press release that she is “proud to stand with him and look[s] forward to working to get him elected.”
Romney has a reputation, dating to his career in business, for soliciting counsel from people with whom he disagrees. The inclusion of DREAM Act backers on Romney’s committee reflects that sensibility, his campaign said.
“Governor Romney and his supporters may not always agree on every issue, but they do agree this country is heading in the wrong direction and Mitt Romney is the right candidate to get the economy back on track,” campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul told the Globe in an e-mail.
The other stated supporters of the DREAM Act on Romney’s committee are representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida and former Florida Representative Lincoln Diaz-Balart. Another member, Florida state Representative Anitere Flores, voted for a state version of the DREAM Act.
Of course, it is no coincidence that Romeny added the Florida Cuban American Republicans to his team as well as Fortuño, who despite heading up an island nation with close to 15% unemployment, might appeal to some Puerto Ricans in the Orlandp area. Maybe this team should have just been called Juntos con Romney en Florida instead?
In an opinion piece today on NBC Latino, Stephen Nuño raises an issue about how the Democrats have failed US Latinos. Hisa argument focuses more on the economy and the President's poor record on immigration. He continues with this:
Republicans want to slash government programs that help Latinos. They want to make the country hostile to immigrants so that they will deport themselves on their own. They compare us to feral pigs, call for electrifying the wall along the border, and discuss Latinos through a prism of cheap labor. Fine, my feelings are hurt. Now what?
And therein lies the problem. Because while Nuño says that his feelings are hurt, we think this entire issue is more that just being offended by Republican rhetoric. The fact is that the culture of hostility towards Latinos, which, quite frankly, Romney has been promoting since the primary season (and to refute this now is just not accurate), does matter. That culture of hostility affects attitudes, divides Americans, and brings out the worst in people who hide behind the American flags and tells their fellow Latino citizens that in the end you are just all a bunch of "illegals." Want proof? Just visit our Facebook page on a daily basis. Tone down the hate among your voters and maybe more US Latino voters will listen to your message.
The economy is important, but so are issues that negatively impact US Latinos. The GOP will quickly tell you that this is not all about immigration. Of course it isn't, but they cannot seriously think that all of a sudden immigration is NOT an issue? Does anyone remember the GOP primaries, where people clapped as candidates promoted protection of our country from the evils of illegal immigration and Gov. Perry was slammed for trying to be a bit more moderate by suggesting that in-state tuition for undocumented youth in Texas is a good idea?
Romney would win more people over if he had the political courage to dissasociate himself from the Kobachs and Arpaios of the world and say that such short-sighted policies do not create a more inclusive Republican party, but we doubt it, because in the end, Romney cannot upset that part of his base. Or maybe he can, because he is banking that that neo-nativist base just wants the "Kenyan" out of the White House. So that is his dilemma. He would gain more Latino support by being more moderate on immigration, but then he would be seen by many supporters as not being conservative and tough enough about immigration.
In addition, thinking that he just doesn't have to talk about the elephant in the room and just focus on the economy will only get him so far. We truly wonder as well if more moderate voices on immigration who are now part of Juntos con Romney understand their dilemma as well. In the quest to win the White House, will you be ok with being part of the same tent as the neo-nativist crowd? Immigration and a reformed system that speaks to the realities of the issue is as Rep. John Lewis, former Freedom Rider, said this week is one of this country's greatest civil rights issues today. Guess the unholy alliances will prosper in 2012, and we think most US Latino voters will see through that.