How Mitt Romney Could Lure Latinos

PHOTO: Mitt Romney addresses his supporters during an Illinois GOP primary victory party at the Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center Hotel March 20, 2012 in Schaumburg, Illinois.

The conventional wisdom is that Mitt Romney has a problem with Latinos. The nation's fastest-growing voting bloc opted for President Obama by more than a two-to-one margin in 2008, and after a series of comments by Romney during the Republican primary alienated Latinos, Democrats hope to do even better this time around.

"I'm actually thinking that the way it looks right now that I expect that the president is going to get an even higher percentage in 2012," Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa predicted in an interview last month.

Recent polls appear to back up Democrats' optimism. A poll conducted by Latino Decisions for ABC News and Univision in late January revealed 67 percent support for Obama among registered Latino voters nationwide, compared with 25 percent support for Romney.

If that holds true, it would likely be enough to hand Obama another term in the White House.

"Romney desperately needs to improve his numbers with Latinos. Polls show Romney trailing by as much as an unbelievable 50 percentage points behind President Obama with Hispanic voters," wrote Ana Navarro, a Republican strategist, in a CNN op-ed last Thursday. "In 2008, Arizona Sen. John McCain won 31 percent of the Latino vote. It cost him states like Florida, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah. Unless Romney gets close to 40 percent of the Latino vote, he can kiss the White House goodbye."

That has to be cause for concern in the Romney camp. But a closer look reveals that the outlook for the GOP hopeful among Latinos may not be quite as bleak as it appears. While Romney has made his share of missteps with Latinos – such as vowing to veto the Dream Act, advocating an immigration policy of "self-deportation" and praising Arizona's controversial new anti-immigrant law – Obama has blemishes on his record, too. During the 2008 campaign, Obama promised to enact comprehensive immigration reform if elected. But despite a Democrat-controlled Congress for the first two years of his tenure, Obama failed to fulfill those promises.

"This has always been a priority for the president he chooses to do nothing about," Romney said at an April 2 campaign stop in Milwaukee. "Let the immigrant community not forget that while he uses this as a political weapon, he has not taken responsibility for fixing the problems we have."

Even the Dream Act, a scaled-down immigration bill that would provide a path to citizenship for some children of undocumented immigrants who join the military or attend college, was defeated in the Senate. The measure was widely opposed by Republicans, but it would have passed if five Democratic senators – Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Max Baucus and Jon Tester of Montana – had not voted against it, too.

"President Obama has a credibility problem with Hispanics," Alberto Martinez, an adviser to the Romney campaign in Florida, said in an interview. "This is someone who made an unequivocal promise that he would pass comprehensive immigration reform in his first two years in office. He had his party in control of Congress for those two years and he got whatever he wanted – Obamacare, the stimulus, bailouts – and yet he never bothered to push for immigration reform. Even on the Dream Act, something he claims to support, he's been mostly silent."

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