Analysis: Pete Wilson could become Romney’s Latino albatross
Pete Wilson may have left the California governor’s mansion long ago, but he’s still well-remembered by Latino voters for his immigration crackdown effort. (Flickr: Mpls55048)
Pete Wilson could help Mitt Romney. Pete Wilson could hurt Mitt Romney.
Both of these things are true. But the help Romney could receive from Wilson, the former California governor, during the Republican presidential primary could further wreck his reputation with Latino voters, the fastest-growing voting bloc, in the general election.
Romney’s campaign was hoping to wrap up the GOP presidential nomination quickly after the first few primary contests of the year. Though Romney picked up wins last week in Florida and Nevada, his opponents have shown no sign of getting out of his way. Thus, the Romney team has buckled up for a drawn-out nomination fight that could last months.
Wilson’s state of California holds its primary in June, four months from now. But California’s 172 delegates are the biggest individual total of any state and Romney isn’t taking any chances of losing them. Wilson served as governor in the 1990s, but he’s still influential in the California GOP. The candidate he endorsed for governor, Meg Whitman, went on to win the Republican nomination.
But without the long, drawn-out primary process, Romney wouldn’t need to tout Wilson’s endorsement. In fact, Romney would rather have it that way because the price he could end up paying for the Wilson endorsement in the general election with Latinos could be significant.
Wilson is remembered among Latinos for championing Proposition 187, a 1994 California ballot initiative designed to cut off undocumented immigrants from state services such as public schools. Though the measure passed, it mobilized Latinos against Wilson and the GOP in California. It was later found to be unconstitutional by a federal court.
The pro-immigration reform group America’s Voice dubbed Wilson “the man who turned California blue.”
“Isn’t Romney supposed to be a facts guy? Didn’t any of his so-called smart operatives tell him that Pete Wilson has lower approval ratings in the Latino community than the devil himself?” the group’s executive director Frank Sharry said in a statement.
Even some Republicans acknowledged the toll that Wilson’s endorsement could have on Romney.
“Pete Wilson endorses Romney and will serve as honorary CA chair. Congratulations, Mitt. It will do wonders 4 u w/Latino vote,” tweeted veteran Republican consultant Ana Navarro, who backed Jon Huntsman in the 2012 primary.
“More stuff that’ll help w Latinos!!!” tweeted Liz Mair, a Republican strategist who’s worked on campaigns in California.
Romney is already unpopular with most Latinos nationwide, he trails President Obama by over 40 points among Latino voters in a hypothetical general election match up. The Wilson endorsement, along with the revelation that the author of controversial immigration crackdown laws in Arizona and Alabama is advising him, could dig the hole deeper.
Though Wilson’s endorsement helped Whitman in the California GOP primary, it crushed her in the general election. She lost the Latino vote 86-13 percent, and the election, to Democrat Jerry Brown.
Immigration might not be the most important issue for Latino voters in 2012, but it is a key “gateway issue” to connect with most Latino voters.
So far Romney is failing that test. And the reason why appears to be the long, arduous nature of the Republican presidential primary.