N.H. event demonstrates Romney’s Latino challenge
Immigration could prevent Romney from attracting a broad swath of Latinos in 2012. (Photo: Jordan Fabian)
NASHUA, N.H. — A campaign stop in southern New Hampshire Monday presented a snapshot of the challenges Mitt Romney could face attracting Latino voters should he win the GOP presidential nomination.
After a speech to the Nashua Chamber of Commerce, Romney was asked how he could create more excitement for the Republican Party. In his reply, he unexpectedly brought up the subject of Latino voters.
“I need to get 50.1 percent of the American people behind me,” Romney began. “Take a group like Latino-Americans. If I can convince more Latino-Americans to vote Republican, I’ll be doing pretty well pretty broadly.”
Romney’s comment was an indication that he’s beginning to look ahead to the general election, suggesting that Latinos could be the key swing group in that contest.
The former Massachusetts governor has already won the Iowa caucuses and he’s in position to win the New Hampshire primary too. At campaign stops, he’s mostly targeted President Obama instead of his Republican primary opponents. But polls show that he’s underwater with Latinos in a head-to-head match-up with the president.
Romney’s no dummy and he knows he has to perform better with Latinos if he wants to win the White House. He’s begun to develop his pitch to Latinos on the trail; that the United States was built by immigrants looking for economic opportunity.
On its face, that would be a smart pitch to Latino voters, the majority of whom list the economy and jobs as their number one issue. But Romney has shown no sign of budging from his tough position on immigration reform, and that could drown out his economic message to broad swaths of the Latino voting population.
“[Immigrants] did not come because America had the most generous benefits in the world. If you’re looking a president who will promise a lot of free stuff and give you the most benefits, that is not me,” Romney said. “People came here for opportunity. For great jobs for themselves and for their kids. This is the land of opportunity.”
A group of six DREAM Act students showed up at Romney’s event and one of them, an Arizona resident named Erika Andiola, confronted him over his earlier claim that he would veto the legislation, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented minors who enlist in the military or attend college.
Romney did not reply to her as he was rushed of the room by security following another contentious interaction with an audience member over healthcare reform.
“I think he’s sticking to his message that he doesn’t support illegal immigration [and] that he supports legal immigration. But the thing is that he mentioned that he supports a way for us to come to this country to get opportunities; that this is a country of opportunities. And I would see why he wouldn’t support the DREAM Act,” said Andiola, 24. “That would give thousands of undocumented students in this country opportunity. We’re not looking for anything for free.
“If he wants the Latino vote, he’s going to have to change his stance on the DREAM Act,” she added.
Romney clears up remark about “being able to fire people”
Later in the day at an event in Hudson, Romney held a rare availability with the press in order to clarify a remark he made in Nashua about “being able to fire people.”
At the Chamber breakfast, Romney discussed his belief that people should have the right to choose their own health insurance.
“I want individuals to have their own insurance,” he said (video here, courtesy of ABC News). “That means the insurance company will have an incentive to keep you healthy. It also means if you don’t like what they do, you can fire them. I like being able to fire people who provide services to me.”
Romney is already under tough scrutiny from Democrats and some of his GOP rivals for his record as head of Bain Capital, a private equity firm. Media reports have dredged up instances of Bain laying off workers at companies it acquired, causing Romney’s rivals to attack his reputation as a job creator.
In Hudson, Romney told reporters that in Nashua he was only talking about insurance companies that are providing poor service.
“We like to be able to get rid of insurance companies that don’t give us the services we need. I don’t want to live in a world where we have Obamacare telling us which insurance we have to have, which doctor we can have, which hospital we go to,” he said. “I believe in the setting as I described this morning where people are able to choose their own doctor, choose their own insurance company. If they don’t like their insurance company or their provider, they can get rid of it. That’s the way America works.”
Asked about the Obama campaign highlighting the incident in Nashua, Romney reiterated his comment was taken out of context.
“Things can always be taken out of context and I understand that’s what the Obama people will do,” he said. “But as you know I was speaking about insurance companies and the need to be able to make a choice. My comments entirely reflect that discussion.”