For Latinos, Romney raises doubts about Obama but leaves questions unanswered
Romney and his fellow Republicans haven’t leveled with Latinos on the issue of immigration.
TAMPA, Fla. — Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech here in Tampa provided the clearest picture yet of his message to voters: President Obama is not working and I am an acceptable alternative.
Romney’s speech was certainly effective from a standpoint of humanizing himself and projecting an image of competence. The often stiff-appearing candidate choked up talking about his young family and he told an emotional story about his father buying a single rose for his mother every day they were married. He spoke of an economic revival and of restoring opportunity, chiding Obama for failing to take responsibility for the current state of the economy.
He also made an appeal to voters who might have supported Obama four years ago, but are now disappointed in his job performance.
“If you felt that excitement when you voted for Barack Obama, shouldn’t you feel that way now that he’s President Obama?” he asked. “You know there’s something wrong with the kind of job he’s done as president when the best feeling you had was the day you voted for him,” he said in his most effective line of the night.
It’s possible that message could resonate with some Latino voters. Although polls show that Latino voters support Obama over Romney two-to-one, their enthusiasm about voting is down from 2008. Many have cited a lack of progress on immigration reform and the tough economy as reasons for their apathy.
Salvador Hernandez, 30, of Janesville, Wisc. — the hometown of Romney’s running mate Paul Ryan — says that he voted for Obama in 2008, but will support the Republican ticket this year, even though he says he doesn’t agree with their immigration policies.
“Right now, jobs are more important. And Obama is going to kill small businesses,” Hernandez told Univision News.
But is casting doubt on Obama enough to build a case for enough Latinos to flock toward Romney? It’s hard to say yes.
While enthusiasm for Obama might be down, the Republican brand remains poisonous among Latino voters. Fifty-six percent percent of Latino voters said in a recent poll that they believe the Republican Party doesn’t care too much about them, with an extra 21 percent saying it’s outwardly hostile. That’s three-quarters of Latino voters who have a terrible image of the GOP in their heads.
Conscious of that, Republicans made every effort this week to pay lip service to the Latino community. Six Latino officials were chosen to speak in prime time and every single one delivered a line in Spanish.
They played a video on the convention’s final night, in which New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez said, “the Hispanic community has been taken for granted by the other party.” Craig Romney, one of the GOP candidate’s five sons, appeared on stage and delivered an extended endorsement of his father en Español.
But as Roll Call’s Meredith Shiner and others astutely pointed out, Romney and every other speaker avoided the biggest elephant in the room when it comes to the image of the Republican Party in the Latino community: immigration.
Sure, Romney (again) mentioned his father’s humble roots in Mexico and recited the cliché that America is a nation of immigrants, but it will be extraordinarily difficult for Romney and the GOP to make serious inroads among Latinos without first leveling with the community about the tough rhetoric and positions he adopted to help him win the Republican primary and speaking about how he deal with the nation’s 11 million undocumented as president.
And it doesn’t appear that’s going to happen before Election Day. Former Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.), an adviser to Romney, suggested this week that he would attempt to avoid the topic altogether for the final two months of the campaign.
“He’s decided he will deal with this issue as a president, not as a candidate,” he said.
Senior Romney adviser Ed Gillespie explained to Univision News that Romney has spoken about the immigration issue before, especially about family unification and expanding high-skilled visas, but that he would need to address larger problems than immigration in the biggest speech of his political life.
“Look, there are some elections when, for example, national security is a big issue. When I was chairman of the Republican National Committee in 2004, that election was about national security,” Gillespie said. “There have been times when immigration is the biggest issue. But the issue that most voters want to hear about is economy and jobs. That doesn’t mean that [immigration] is not important. Gov. Romney has addressed it and will continue to do so.”
But no speaker took the opportunity to address the topic, and that gaping absence stood out like a sore thumb.
Iván, 27, of Janesville, said a day before the speech that he can’t get past Romney’s tough line on immigration, even though he is disappointed in the president.
“Obama promised many things, and didn’t deliver to the Hispanic community. But he has provided something for the DREAMers, so that will help,” Iván told Univision News in Spanish, in reference to the administration’s deferred action policy.
And on other big issues facing Latinos, such as education, poverty, and the economy, Romney lacked specifics. Yes, Romney provided broad outlines of how he would create 12 million jobs in a five-point plan where he laid out policy goals that he said would result in job growth, such as deficit-reduction, cutting regulation, and school choice.
But young guests at the convention here in Tampa said before the speech they wanted to hear more details about how Romney would accomplish those goals.
“What are you going to do for education, for us young people? What are you going to do for healthcare, for the economy, and national security?” said Jean Coco, 20, a student at the University of South Florida.
“Style is great, but if you don’t have any substance it doesn’t matter,” added Emmanuel Catalan, 20, also a USF student. “I want specific details about how you are going to move us forward.”
Cristina Costantini contributed reporting.
(Photo: Facebook, GOP Convention)