GOP Focuses on Latino Voters at Start of Campaign

By Mark Keller

As the Republican National Convention gets underway, the Romney campaign says it hopes to capture 38 percent of the Latino vote in November as part of its strategy to beat President Barack Obama.

As the U.S. Republican Party prepares to nominate Mitt Romney as its presidential candidate this week, analysts are once again noting that the Latino vote could play a vital role in the election outcome. The convention includes a concerted effort to win over Latino voters, with speeches by Puerto Rico’s First Lady Luce Vela Fortuño scheduled to introduce Ann Romney and Florida Senator Marco Rubio to introduce Mitt Romney. In an interview last week with The Hill, the Romney campaign said its candidate must win 38 percent of the Hispanic vote to beat President Barack Obama in November. That goal is seven points better than GOP candidate John McCain achieved against Obama in 2008, and seven points higher than where Romney polls now. Still, it falls in the realm of possibility: former President George W. Bush won a second term with 40 percent of the Latino vote in 2004. While some analysts question if the GOP platform’s tough language on immigration might alienate the Latino electorate, polls show Romney could win over some Hispanic voters on issues such as Cuba, the economy, and taxes.

In discussions last week, the GOP adopted a platform addressing diverse issues of importance to Latino voters. That platform will be revealed at the convention this week, but sections have become available to the media in advance. On immigration, the party adopted language giving support for Arizona-style immigration legislation. "State efforts to reduce illegal immigration must be encouraged, not attacked," reads the advance version, which calls for the U.S. Department of Justice to end lawsuits against states with punitive immigration laws—such as Arizona, Alabama, South Carolina, and Utah. The position may please supporters of such legislation, but Fox News Latino notes that it may not help with bolstering the Hispanic vote. Some 91 percent of Latinos support the proposed DREAM Act, which would give undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as minors a way to gain citizenship, and 85 percent support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

The platform also adopts tough language on Cuba’s Castro brothers, pledging to continue the economic embargo and promote pro-democracy efforts on the island. This may calm the traditionally conservative Cuban-American community in the key swing state of Florida, where some were anxious due to vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s history of voting against the embargo. Still, Fernando Menéndez of the consultancy the Cordoba Group notes that the Cuban-American community is changing, and many new arrivals favor normalizing relations with Cuba. “[T]ens of thousands of Cuban-Americans… have already voted with their plane tickets on the issue of normalization,” he writes. To that end, The Los Angeles Times notes the GOP platform does not specifically call for reinstating travel restrictions lifted by Obama, which proved popular with those very voters. 

Republicans ultimately hope issues like jobs and the economy will draw Latinos to their side, given that these areas often lead as top concerns in polls among potential Latino voters. In the coming campaign, Republicans hope to convince Latino voters that a Romney presidency would be a better steward of the U.S. economy than the Obama administration, and that Romney’s platform will do more to help Latino small businesses. Hispanic unemployment remained above the national average in July, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Moreover, a July 2012 McClatchy-Marist poll shows 62 percent of Latinos favor extending the Bush tax cuts for all income brackets.

While the GOP may have trouble overcoming Obama’s nearly two-to-one lead among Latino voters, polls show a certain level of apathy among Latinos for the sitting president. In an NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Telemundo survey released this month, Latino voters trailed average voters by 20 percent in enthusiasm for this year’s election. The number of those saying they are “not at all interested” more than doubled from 4 to 10 percent.

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