Can the GOP “reset” its relationship with Latinos?
Hitting the reset button is easier said than done.
TAMPA, Fla. — Republicans made it clear Monday they would like to “push the reset button” on their unsuccessful efforts to woo Latino voters in this election. But is it realistic to expect a significant number of Latinos to vote for Mitt Romney in the fall?
The GOP is trying to make its case that it’s serious about competing for Latino votes. The party decided to keep six high-profile Latino speakers in prime time slots despite having to shorten the convention schedule due to Tropical Storm Isaac. GOP officials proclaim at every turn that this convention will have more Latino speakers and Latino-themed events than any other in party history. Hell, even Willy Chirino is here!
Republicans are looking to re-frame their message to Latino voters too, focusing their attention on Mitt Romney’s ability to fix the economy in the face of double-digit unemployment among Latino workers under President Obama.
The Romney campaign launched a new, positive Spanish-language radio ad Monday featuring Romney’s son Craig. “Mi padre sabe como revivir el sueño americano” (my father knows how to revive the American Dream), he says.
“The part of the Hispanic community that supported President Obama in the last election is extremely disappointed in his record of failure,” former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu, a top Romney adviser, told members of the Hispanic press. “It is our friends and neighbors in the Hispanic community who have suffered the most because this president has been unable to fix [the unemployment] problem.”
The Havana-born Sununu, who is fluent in Spanish, added this zinger: “Necesitamos un presidente que arregle cosas, no que vaya a jugar golf,” (We need a president who will fix things, not play golf).
Romney’s campaign says that it plans to open up a gusher of spending on Spanish-language airwaves with commercials containing that message after getting outspent 12-1 by President Obama and his allies thus far. The Romney campaign says the spending is only coming now because of legal limits on its ability to use money earmarked for the general election that will disappear Thursday when he officially accepts the nomination.
“We’re going after every Hispanic vote because the numbers also show that after spending $400 million, the numbers for President Obama have not changed. He’s in the same place he was nine months ago,” Romney Hispanic co-chairman José Fuentes told Univision News. “What we’re seeing on the street is that 20-25 percent of Hispanics haven’t made up their mind on how they’re going to vote. So they’re waiting to hear Mitt Romney’s message … And I think they’re going to be with us.”
On paper, the plan sounds great. Take advantage of Latino voters who might be less enthusiastic about Obama with a late, aggressive push for votes. Even if Romney is able to peel away a small amount of Latino voters from the president, it could make a difference in battleground states where the contest is close, such as Florida and Nevada.
But last year’s Philadelphia Eagles “Dream Team” also sounded great on paper. When the games started, their expectations crashed down to reality.
Romney and the GOP are clearly aware of their standing with Latino voters, and they know they need to improve in order to remain viable in the long term.
Yet, doubts linger that Romney and Republicans will actually make serious efforts to court Latinos beyond lip service during this election. National Journal’s Ron Brownstein reported this week that Republicans are “focused intently” on winning over white voters. The Romney campaign may need to win a historic proportion of the white vote (61 percent) to eke out a majority. The problem is that the number of white voters has fallen in each recent election.
“This is the last time anyone will try to do this,” a Republican strategist told Brownstein of the campaign’s reliance on white voters.
If it actually attempts an all-out blitz for Latinos, the Romney campaign’s plan faces a litany of challenges. First among them is the issue of immigration. Although the campaign would like to focus the conversation around Obama’s economic record, it can’t seem to shake questions about Romney’s tack to the right during the Republican primary, when he endorsed the concept of “self-deportation.”
Most Latino voters don’t name immigration as the issue most important to them, but the debate is often judged as a sign of respect and openness to the community. And on that front, Republicans have fallen flat.
Republicans have tried to deflect conversation away from the issue, but the questions just won’t go away. Rep. Francisco “Quico” Canseco (R-Texas), a Romney supporter, was peppered with immigration questions Monday. He was asked whether it’s “ironic” for the candidate to tout his father’s roots in Mexico while the GOP platform contains policies backed by Romney that are designed to force undocumented immigrants to “self-deport.”
“I have not read the final document of the party’s platform, but I would suspect a lot of that is rhetoric and conclusion of how it’s done,” he said. “I think we need to move away from ‘auto-deportation’ or any kind of catchwords without actually reading the text of it and putting a label on it.”
The platform does not refer to “self-deportation” by name but it does say, “we will create humane procedures to encourage illegal aliens to return home voluntarily, while enforcing the law against those who overstay their visas.”
Amid the rancor over immigration, the Republican brand has suffered. Romney trails Obama by nearly 40 percentage points among Latino voters, according to a Latino Decisions-impreMedia poll released Monday. And 56 percent of Latino voters believe the GOP doesn’t care much about the community, while 21 percent say that it is outwardly hostile.
Republicans could find it tough to win support among Latinos on their ideology of smaller government as well. Latinos are not a monolithic bloc and are not doctrinaire liberals, but in general they favor a more active government than is envisioned by Republicans.
Republicans might be right about the intensity of Obama’s support being down from 2008, but will they be more willing to vote for a party they perceive as unfriendly?
Add to that the fact that Romney’s efforts to court Latinos are just getting off the ground, compared to the Obama campaign’s year-long effort to win back Latinos, and their mission looks more and more like an uphill climb.
“Whatever the Romney campaign is doing isn’t visible to the naked eye,” Florida GOP consultant Ana Navarro told the Huffington Post. “They don’t know the community — and what they do know, they don’t seem to like.”
Updated 6:33 PM: House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Monday at a reporter’s breakfast in Tampa that turnout from blacks and Latinos could be down from previous years.
“This election is about economics… These groups have been hit the hardest. They may not show up and vote for our candidate but I’d suggest to you they won’t show up and vote for the president either.”
(Photo: Jordan Fabian)