Analysis: Does Romney’s Puerto Rico victory show he can win over Latinos?
Romney’s victory on Puerto Rico was impressive, but it doesn’t look like a game-changer for his chances of winning over Latinos on the U.S. mainland. (facebook.com/mittromney)
One of the major takeaways Mitt Romney gleaned from his resounding victory in Puerto Rico’s Republican presidential primary is that he can win over Latino voters in the United States.
But is it true?
Romney’s team was in desperate need of some good headlines when it came to Latino voters, especially after Politico’s report last week, titled “How Mitt Romney lost Latinos,” drove the narrative that the former Massachusetts governor has already squandered his chance to woo the key voting group.
Thus, Romney and his allies used his 83-8 percent drubbing of Rick Santorum on Sunday as evidence that he can win over Latinos across the country.
“Those people who don’t think that Latinos will vote for a Republican need to take a look in Puerto Rico,” Romney said at a rally in Illinois Sunday night.
“Hispanic voters are going to vote for Republicans if we stand for something: conservative principles that bring growth and good jobs and rising home values,” he added. “I intend to become our nominee and I intend to get Latino voters to vote for a Republican.”
And Romney’s aides crowed that Democratic attacks on Romney aimed at Latinos had fallen flat.
“Big winner in Puerto Rico obviously @MittRomney. The big loser? The myth that principled opposition to Sonia Sotomayor is a vote killer,” tweeted Romney adviser Alberto Martinez. “FL, AZ, NV, PR…in primaries with big Hispanic populations, @MittRomney has won big. Good sign going into IL (6th largest Hisp. population).”
But other evidence points to the fact that Romney still has significant struggles with Latino voters, who could ultimately decide the outcome of the presidential election in the fall.
Though Romney’s huge margin in Puerto Rico might make it tempting to draw sweeping conclusions about his impressive victory, the fact remains that the results were based on the preferences of 150,000 voters on an island of more than 4 million. Voters in Puerto Rico are ineligible to vote in November’s general election.
The GOP primary coincided with Puerto Rican party primaries and Gov. Luis Fortuño used his pro-statehood New Progressive Party apparatus to organize supporters for Romney. By some accounts, many voters were unfamiliar with Romney heading into election day.
Though Puerto Ricans who live on the island are often in close touch with their kin who live on the mainland, their political preferences are not necessarily the same.
“Puerto Ricans on island don’t think themselves US ‘Latinos.’ They’re Puerto Ricans. If Mitt thinks they’re same, he’s wrong,” tweeted Ana Navarro, a Hispanic co-chairman of John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign who backed Jon Huntsman (who has since dropped out) this year.
“This statement shows how little Gov. Romney understands the Latino community in the U.S.,” conservative activist Roberto De Posada told Univision News. “I would like to know how many Latino voters in Las Vegas, Denver, or Miami give a hoot about statehood for Puerto Rico.”
Polling shows that Romney trails President Obama among Latinos badly; a Univision News/ABC News poll conduced by Latino Decisions in January showed Romney trailing President Obama 67-25 percent among Latino voters nationwide. A Fox News Latino poll released this month showed Obama expanding his lead to 70-14 percent over Romney. Political observers believe that the Republican nominee must win close to 40 percent of the Latino vote to defeat Obama.
And Romney does not fare well with Puerto Ricans, the second-largest Latino subgroup, nationwide. He only picks up 19 percent support in a match up with Obama in the Univision News poll. Only 23 percent of Puerto Ricans in Florida, who are considered a swing constituency in a key swing state, back Romney.
When appealing to Latino voters, Democrats have primarily targeted Romney over his tough talk on immigration, an issue that doesn’t personally affect Puerto Ricans since they are U.S. citizens.
But as the immigration debate has become an analog over whether politicians are friendly or unfriendly to Latinos, it has taken a steep toll on Republicans.
“Voters are not buying what Mitt Romney is trying to sell. And Latinos understand that Romney is beyond the point of no return on immigration: He would be the most extreme presidential nominee in history,” Democratic National Committee spokesman Brad Woodhouse said in a release. “As the Republican primary drags on, it’s clear that Romney has done irreparable damage to his chances with Latinos, while President Obama will continue to lead on issues of importance to the community.”
Republican strategist Javier Ortiz, a Georgia resident who grew up in Puerto Rico and backs Newt Gingrich, disagrees, saying that it’s possible for Romney to win over Latinos with a unifying message. But he concedes that it will be tough to break through against the Obama campaign’s messaging.
“I think Romney will work very hard at pulling it off in the general election, the question is will he reach as many people as possible in order to win the election with all the work the Democrats are doing day in and day out,” he told Univision News. “Is he going to be able to get through what the opposition has in store for the eventual nominee? The opposition will make it very difficult for him.”
Others are not as optimistic.
“It takes much more than intentions to win Hispanic votes, especially in a general election. Romney’s comments are belied by the fact that Romney has shown no plan or campaign infrastructure for reaching Latino voters beyond Florida, has flip-flopped on his support for a workable immigration solution, has pandered to Kris Kobach, Joe Arpaio, Paul Babeu, and others who are hostile to Latinos, and is all-too willing to abandon small government principles in a quixotic quest to have people ‘self-deport,’” said Mario H. Lopez, the president of the conservative Hispanic Leadership Fund.
Lopez, who has not backed a candidate, added: “Mitt Romney is helping to push the Republican Party off a cliff and his actions show he is unwilling to heed the danger signs.”