Romney woos Hispanics over economy

Mitt Romney is using Hispanics’ double-digit unemployment rate to argue that the key voting bloc should support him instead of President Obama.

Romney badly trails Obama with Hispanic voters and must close the gap to win key swing states such as Nevada, Colorado and Florida, where Hispanics make up a sizable share of the voting-age population.

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While hampered by his conservative position on immigration, Romney believes he can make up ground with a focus on jobs and the economy, a message that seemed to help him close the gender gap with Obama.

Speaking at an office-supply business owned by two Mexican-American businessmen Tuesday in Fort Worth, Texas, Romney argued the struggling economy was disproportionately affecting Hispanic workers.

“This Obama economy has been hard particularly on Hispanic businesses and Hispanic businessmen,” Romney said, noting that a third of those living in poverty were Hispanic. “I can tell you if I’m the next president of the United States, I’ll be the president for all Americans and make sure this economy is good for all Americans, Hispanic and otherwise.”


Romney went on to argue that “Hispanic Americans have in large part looked to entrepreneurs and businesses” rather than the government for economic improvement, and argued that the president’s “hostile” policies toward business had slowed growth.

A Romney spokesman promised a “lot of activity” to ramp up Hispanic outreach efforts in the coming weeks and months.

“He’s going to invest the time and energy in sharing his vision for the country with the Hispanic community, and even though there may be areas of disagreement, Hispanics will know where Gov. Romney stands, and he will follow through on his commitments to grow jobs, improve the economy and work toward a legal immigration system that works,” the spokesman said.

Romney’s campaign released Web videos in English and Spanish on Tuesday lambasting an Obama ad that argued the economy was moving in the right direction for Latinos. Team Romney also pointed to last month’s jump in the Hispanic unemployment rate and put out a statement from former Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez to bolster their argument.

But in his speech, Romney once again did not mention immigration, an issue polls show Hispanic voters care about nearly as much as the economy and one where Romney’s views are starkly at odds with many Hispanic voters. One protester waving a sign in opposition to Romney’s immigration views was quickly escorted from the event minutes after the presumptive Republican nominee began speaking.

Romney ran hard to the right on immigration during the primary, and has kept silent on the issue since the general-election campaign began — he also avoided addressing it in a late May speech to the Latino Coalition at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Obama’s campaign blasted Romney in its response to the ad.

“Hispanics stand to lose the most from Romney’s insistence on the same failed economic policies that created the economic crisis,” said Obama campaign spokeswoman Gabriela Domenzain, who credited Obama’s policies for a nearly 2 percentage point drop in the Hispanic unemployment rate since the height of the crisis in May 2009.

Some Republican strategists say Romney’s push on Tuesday was a good start — but that he’d have to do much more to narrow the gap with Obama.

“Without earning a larger percent of the Hispanic vote, Republicans are doomed to be a minority party. The math just doesn’t add up,” said Republican strategist Leslie Sanchez, who specializes in Hispanic outreach and polling. “[Romney] is tethering Obama to his record and introducing himself to voters, and those are good starts, but you need to do a lot more, make some bolder steps.”

GOP strategist Ford O’Connell said Romney’s attacks on Obama’s economic record were a good strategy to “sully” the president for Hispanic voters.

“The jobs report provides an opening, but it’s a question how far Romney and the GOP are willing to go to bring Hispanics into the fold,” he said. “Talking about jobs, economy and family values is a good start, but if you want to win over Hispanics you have to make some legislative offerings.”

Obama has maintained a large lead among Hispanic voters since the beginning of the presidential campaign, and Democrats are quietly confident that the advantage could provide the tipping point in the key swing states of Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico.

In a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released late last month, 61 percent of Hispanic voters said they would vote for Obama, while just 27 percent backed Romney. More Hispanic voters see Romney more negatively than positively, and only 22 percent say they view the Republican Party in a positive light.

Those are steep drop-offs from Romney’s Republican predecessors, who were more centrist on immigration reform. President George W. Bush won more than 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004, and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) took a third of Hispanic voters in 2008 — a decline many GOP strategists say contributed to his loss.

Sanchez predicted that Romney wouldn’t be able to get much above 35 percent of the Hispanic vote in the fall, a lower mark than Bush and not much better than McCain. She said how close he could get to that mark could be crucial in some swing states, especially in the Southwest.

But the president also held a commanding lead with female voters just a few months ago. In early April, during the height of the “war on women” controversy, Obama held a 16-point lead among women, according to a CNN/ORC poll.

Romney worked diligently to cut into those figures. While his numbers were also buoyed by clinching the Republican nomination, Romney was able to narrow the gap with female voters, and trailed the president by a mere 3 points in a CNN/ORC poll earlier this month.