In particular, Democrats are now poised to highlight Romney's comments in the primary on the immigration issue. The former Massachusetts governor – and all-but-certain GOP nominee – vowed to veto the Dream Act, the Democrats' measure to provide a path to citizenship for some children of undocumented immigrants who attend college or serve in the military; outlined an immigration policy based on the notion of "self-deportation"; and, when pressed about the fact that a lawn-care company he once used had employed undocumented immigrants, noted that he told the company, "I'm running for office for Pete's sake – I can't have illegals."
"I don't think that Mitt Romney has any credibility on this issue. I just don't," Villaraigosa said. "Not when you argue for the self-deportation of 11 million people. Not when you think that the Dream Act is a handout. Not when you didn't say a word in the course of those debates some of the most anti-immigrant and racially offensive and ethnically offensive statements were made. Never once did he say, 'I take umbrage with that.'"
In 2008, Latinos cast 6.6 million votes and, breaking so heavily for Obama, paved the way for the Illinois Democrat's resounding win. Generally speaking, Latinos are liberals, tending to disagree with Republicans on key issues such as immigration reform and the government's role in improving the economy. For the president, Latino turnout could be the difference between winning and losing the White House. Recent projections put the number of Latino voters in November between 10.5 million and 12.2 million, but Villaraigosa believes Republicans will take steps to keep that number down.
"We're going to have to work hard to talk to Latino voters to really make the case to really work hard, to get them out to vote at a time when the other side may be discouraging them from voting," he said. "You know, over the last couple of years we've seen in states across the country they're making it more difficult to vote. The number of states who've passed laws requiring voter IDs with the purported goal of making our elections more secure, but with the effect of limiting and undermining the vote among the poor, elderly voters and communities of color."
"I think we've seen that in the past and I expect that we'll see it again. There'll be an attempt to depress the vote – no question about it."
Another potential roadblock for Democrats is Romney's running mate selection. One of the names cited most often as a possible choice on the Romney ticket is Sen. Marco Rubio, the freshman Republican from Florida. The Latino Decisions poll in January revealed that 60 percent of Latino Republicans in Florida would be much more likely to vote Republican in November if Rubio is added to the GOP ticket, potentially giving Romney a sizable boost in a key battleground state. However, Villaraigosa doesn't sound concerned.
"Almost no election that I can remember was decided on who the vice presidential candidate was or who the running mate was. It's usually decided by the top of the ticket," he said. "I think it may give him a small bump in some places, but I think ultimately they're going to have to talk about what they've done and what they're going to do to get elected. Simple as that."