By Cameron Joseph - 08/29/12 09:00 AM EDT
TAMPA, Fla. — Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) on Tuesday said Republicans aren’t going to close the gap with Hispanic voters until they “stop acting stupid.”
Bush said many Hispanic voters share the GOP’s commitment to faith, family and small government but have been alienated from the party by exclusionary rhetoric on immigration. But that, he said, is finally changing.
The advantage that Democrats have with Hispanics is a principal concern of Mitt Romney’s campaign. The GOP standard-bearer badly trails President Obama among the voting bloc, and if the numbers don’t improve, it could cost him the swing states of Colorado, Florida and Nevada — and perhaps the entire election.
Republicans moved aggressively this week to close the gap, arranging a speakers’ slate at the convention heavy on Republicans of Latino descent. The outreach from the podium is being reinforced with Spanish-language ads from the Romney campaign.
Bush, whose wife is Hispanic, told The Hill that while jobs and education are the most important issues for the Latino community, more inclusive language and policies would be “an important symbol that shows sensitivity” for their concerns.
He also warned, in Spanish, that if Asians and Latinos, the fastest-growing populations in the United States, didn’t feel comfortable in the party, “we’re going to lose elections.”
“That’s not opinion — that’s math,” he said.
Romney ran hard to the right on immigration during the primary, voicing his support for Arizona’s controversial immigration law and arguing that illegal immigrants would “self-deport” if the United States “turned off the magnets” of easily accessible jobs and in-state tuition.
He’s softened his rhetoric on immigration somewhat since but mostly avoided talking about it.
Some in the party aren’t backing down. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R), the author of the Arizona law and an informal adviser to the Romney campaign, pushed language into the official party platform that says laws like his should be “encouraged, not attacked” by the government. The platform advocates withholding federal funds from “sanctuary cities” and any universities that provide in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants.
A Romney campaign official downplayed the platform position and expressed confidence that they will reach their target of 38 percent support from Hispanics on Election Day.
“The platform that counts is Mitt Romney’s platform,” Romney Hispanic outreach head and former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez told The Hill. “He’s got a son who speaks perfect Spanish. His warmth will connect with the Hispanic community. He’ll be doing a lot more events, a lot more advertising. They’ll know him a lot more. I think from here on, it’s on the way up.”
Romney launched a Spanish-language ad on Tuesday, and unlike previous commercials, it not only attacks President Obama’s economic policies but also promises to help Latinos battered by the dismal economy.
“I know how to revive the American Dream,” Romney says in English, with Spanish subtitles. “I will not let you down. I will work tirelessly to create more good-paying jobs, to reform the education system and to lower taxes.”
Romney has also agreed to participate in a forum with Univision, the country’s largest Spanish-language TV network.
Gutierrez said that Romney, who aside from a June speech at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) has not talked much about immigration, was unlikely to address the issue in his convention speech.
“He may mention it, but he’s going to talk about the economy,” he said.
Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) said Romney’s NALEO speech was “great,” but only a start.
“I think he needs to do a lot more, and I think he will. It’s imperative. You cannot win a presidential election if you don’t get at least 35 percent of the Hispanic vote, and I think it’s important for him to get out there and go after it,” he told The Hill.
Al Cardenas, the head of the American Conservative Union and a Romney adviser, admitted the campaign’s 38 percent goal would be tough to reach, but he said Romney’s numbers with Latinos could improve. He said the candidate’s Thursday night convention speech could prove crucial to how much he narrows the gap.
“Frankly, he’s entered into this general election with a fairly empty canvas and the other side’s done a pretty good opportunity of maligning it,” Cardenas said.
“He’s got to use this convention as his opportunity to open the eyes of the Hispanic community, say, ‘I’m a caring person, I care about you and the needs of the Hispanic community, and here’s who I am.’ ”