Mitt Romney is hoping that when Hispanic voters go to the polls, the economy will be at the forefront of their minds.
“Hispanics have been hit disproportionately hard,” Romney said in his speech yesterday at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) conference, referring to the economy under President Obama. “While national unemployment is still above 8 percent, Hispanic unemployment is at 11 percent.”
A couple of sentences later, Romney again emphasized how Hispanics in particular had been hurt by the recession. “Over 2 million more Hispanics are living in poverty today than the day President Obama took office,” he pointed out.
Those aren’t the only statistics the Romney campaign is utilizing to make its case that Obama has failed the Hispanic community. In a research brief sent to reporters earlier this week, the campaign pointed out that a January Pew Research Center study found that 28 percent of Hispanic homeowners owed more on their house than it was worth — a percentage double the national rate — while three-quarters of Hispanics perceived their financial status to be “poor” or “only fair.”
“He’s recognized that Hispanics don’t care only about immigration,” a Romney adviser says of the candidate. “In fact, most of them don’t care much about immigration. The number one issue is the economy and jobs, and so that’s I think where the focus is going to remain throughout the campaign.”
The Romney campaign and the RNC are ensuring there will be an aggressive outreach to Hispanic voters. The campaign has been releasing Spanish-language Web videos and TV ads. In Florida, a minimum of a dozen field staffers will focus on Hispanic voters. “There’s almost going to be two campaigns being run in Florida,” says a Romney adviser. “One is going to be targeted to all voters, and then there’s going to be a separate campaign, almost the same size and scope, targeting just Hispanic voters. Same message, just different means of communicating for different audiences.”
Nor is it just Florida. The RNC is also deploying state directors and resources to Virginia, North Carolina, New Mexico, Colorado, and Nevada for the purpose of wooing Hispanic voters. From 2000 to 2010, the Hispanic population jumped to 50 million, up from 35 million. “Of that 15 million–person increase, nearly 20 percent came in five key swing states — Florida, Colorado, Nevada, North Carolina, and Virginia,” reported the Washington Post.
The campaign is also using Hispanic surrogates, the most prominent being Marco Rubio, who has campaigned with Romney. After Romney’s speech yesterday, Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and Raul Labrador of Idaho both issued statements in English and Spanish, saying respectively that “the Hispanic community has been especially hurt by President Obama’s failed economic policies and hostility to job creators” and “Obama’s promises have proven to be nothing more than empty rhetoric for the Hispanic community.”
On immigration, Romney is walking a careful line, particularly in light of Obama’s decision last week to give legal status to young adults brought to the country illegally as children. A poll of Latino voters in several swing states (Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Nevada, and Virginia), conducted by Latino Decisions and America’s Voice, found that 49 percent of voters were more enthused about Obama after he announced his decision, while 14 percent were less enthusiastic. (Romney was having trouble among Hispanic voters even before this: A May Gallup poll found that 68 percent of Hispanic voters backed Obama, compared with 23 percent for Romney.) For the Romney campaign, the key is not winning the national Hispanic vote, but peeling off Hispanic voters in swing states. Nor does his campaign see Obama’s action as a game-changer: “There isn’t concern,” one adviser says bluntly when asked about it.
In his NALEO speech, Romney emphasized that he wanted to provide a solution that was “long-term,” unlike Obama’s “short-term” measure to temporarily provide legal status to those young adults here. He also stressed his interest in overhauling the current temporary-worker visa program.
Florida Republican strategist Rick Wilson thinks there are two ways to view Hispanic voters. “You can look at them as the Obama administration does, which is as one more Balkanized, dependency client group, where they’re going to throw what they perceive are goodies at them,” he remarks. “Or you can look at them like Americans who are suffering in an even greater way than many people under the failed economic policies of the Obama administration. And I think that’s the sort of approach Romney took [in his NALEO speech].”
Romney’s speech, he adds, “honored” an important component of Hispanic culture. “There is an awful deep entrepreneurial culture and work ethic in the Hispanic community,” Wilson says. It’s that spirit that the Romney campaign is hoping to tap into before November.
— Katrina Trinko is an NRO reporter.