On Wednesday afternoon in the nation’s capital, Mitt Romney will speak to the Latino Coalition’s annual economic summit, the latest attempt by the presumptive Republican nominee to make inroads into the country’s fastest-growing voting bloc.
He’s got his work cut out for him. The latest polls show Romney trailing far behind President Obama among Latino voters. In an ABC News/Washington Post poll taken earlier this spring, 73 percent of Latinos supported Obama compared with 26 percent for Romney. If Obama can get Latinos to head to the polls in droves and back him by that type of margin, the White House will almost definitely be his for another four years.
In 2008, Obama won 67 percent of the Latino vote, giving him a huge advantage over Sen. John McCain who garnered 31 percent. But that is still better than Romney would fare if the election were held today. To that end, the Republican hopeful has made more of an effort in recent weeks to win Latinos. Last week he spent two days in the Hispanic hotbed of Florida and launched his first television ads of the general election, including a Spanish-language version. The ad is Romney’s first Spanish spot since the Sunshine State’s primary in January, one that he won.
Even members of his own party acknowledge that Romney faces an uphill battle with Latinos. Only months after he mentioned New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, as a possible running mate, Martinez said Latinos “have been alienated” over the course of the GOP campaign this past year, even taking aim at Romney’s immigration policy of “self-deportation.”
”Self-deport? What the heck does that mean?” Martinez told Newsweek. “I have no doubt Hispanics have been alienated during this campaign. But now there’s an opportunity for Gov. Romney to have a sincere conversation about what we can do and why.”
Whether or not Romney will seize that opportunity after doing so much damage to his standing with Latinos during the primary is a real question. The former Massachusetts governor vowed to veto the Dream Act, praised Arizona’s controversial new anti-immigrant law and touted the endorsement of controversial activist Kris Kobach. If Romney cannot boost his standing among Latinos to around 40 percent support, then according to Republican strategist Ana Navarro, “he can kiss the White House goodbye.”
Wednesday’s speech, scheduled for noon, could help. So too could the attack dog work of Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a possible VP pick for Romney, who has aggressively gone after Obama in recent weeks.
“For all the policy disagreements that we may have with the president, it is hard to understate how much he inspired people across this country four years ago with his promises to unite America and lift it up. The man who today occupies the White House and is running for president is a very different person,” Rubio said last Saturday in South Carolina. “We have not seen such a divisive figure in modern American history as we have over the last three and a half years.”
Rubio is expected to hammer Obama’s record when he addresses the Latino Coalition hours after Romney.
By failing to fulfill his campaign promise to enact comprehensive immigration reform – even with two years of a Democratic-controlled Congress – Obama has left himself open to criticism of his record with Latinos. The nation’s largest Spanish-language newspaper, La Opinion, recently urged Obama to “do something concrete” to help the type of youngsters who would have benefited from the enactment of the Dream Act, which failed to pass the Senate in a vote in late 2010. The newspaper implored Obama to “offer administrative relief to young people who meet basic requirements: being here undocumented, being students or former students (many are graduates without job options that match their degrees), showing good behavior and not having a criminal background, among others.”
“Romney himself has attacked Obama for promising to tackle the immigration problem and not fulfilling the promises. Empty words, but they could make a dent,” the newspaper warned. “Our message to the White House: more action and fewer words. Providing administrative relief to the Dreamers will say more than running 100 ads in Spanish.”
While immigration is clearly a key topic for Latinos, the most important issue for Latinos is the economy, and on that front too, Obama has cause for concern. According to the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, only 16 percent of Americans say their financial situation has improved since Obama took office, while 30 percent say they are now worse off.
It is no wonder, then, that the Obama campaign launched a pre-emptive attack on Romney’s speech Wednesday.
”Tomorrow we’ll likely see Gov. Romney double down on Romney economics, an economic philosophy that puts short-term profit for a few investors ahead of long-term gain for businesses and communities,” Obama campaign spokeswoman Gabriela Domenzain said in a statement. “This is the same philosophy that led to the failed policies that created the economic crisis. Gov. Romney is not only on the wrong side of every Hispanic voter priority, but Hispanics also stand to lose the most from Romney’s plans to give massive tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires, allow Wall Street to write its own rules again, and even let foreclosures ‘hit the bottom.’ President Obama is fighting for an economy built to last, to create jobs and grow the middle class, and reward hard work and responsibility, and we are seeing results. Under the president’s leadership, we’ve seen 26 straight months of private-sector job growth, 2 million Hispanics have been kept out of poverty, taxes on small businesses have been cut 18 times and, over the past 26 months Hispanic unemployment has declined 2.1 percent.”
Obama, who will address the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials in June, currently has the upper hand with Latinos. In a recent ABC News/Washington Post favorability poll of Latinos, they viewed Obama favorably rather than unfavorably by 76 percent to 20 percent. Romney, on the other hand, was viewed favorably by 33 percent of Latinos, while 40 percent saw the presumptive GOP nominee unfavorably.
Rumor has it that Romney may attend NALEO’s conference, too. If so, that would be the first time the two opponents would address the same Latino audience in this campaign. With less than six months until the election, both have a lot at stake – and not a lot of time.
Matthew Jaffe is covering the 2012 campaign for ABC News and Univision.