Romney increases efforts to win over Hispanic voters

Mitt Romney is ramping up his outreach to Hispanic voters, softening his rhetoric on undocumented immigrants and making a major investment in Spanish-language media.

The renewed push — focused on the key swing states of Colorado, Nevada and Florida — comes as polls show President Obama increasing his already-large nationwide lead over Romney with Hispanic voters, although swing-state polls of Latinos offer a more inconclusive picture.

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In recent days the Romney campaign has debuted two new Spanish-language ads, one running in all swing states that attacks Obama on jobs and the national debt, with the other featuring Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuño (R), targeted at the fast-growing Puerto Rican population in central Florida, stretching from Tampa to Orlando. Last month he also ran a Spanish-language ad with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) addressing Social Security and Medicare.

While Romney has been outspent by more than a 2-to-1 margin on Spanish-language ads in the past month, that’s a big shift from the 12-to-1 Spanish-language spending advantage Obama and his Democratic allies enjoyed over the summer.

Romney’s campaign has also focused hard on Hispanic outreach in order to catch up to Obama’s huge ground-game effort. According to the campaign, it and the Republican National Committee have already exceeded the total number of doors knocked on and phone calls made by Election Day in 2008.

Romney advisers told The Hill their polls showed them they were already at the level of Hispanic support Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) won in 2008, and with many voters still undecided, although Obama’s campaign disputed that, saying it is already running ahead of its own 2008 numbers in its internal polls. In 2008, Obama won 67 percent of the Hispanic vote while McCain won 31 percent, according to exit polls.

“We’ve knocked on more doors already than the McCain campaign had through the whole campaign in those Hispanic areas — we’re blowing them out of the water,” said Jose Fuentes, a co-chairman of Romney’s Hispanic leadership team and former attorney general of Puerto Rico. “There have been so many more calls made and doors knocked on than four years ago, it’s really mind-boggling.”

Team Romney has taken its pitch to the campaign trail, too: Rubio stumped for Romney in Nevada on Tuesday, with a scheduled appearance later this week in Colorado. Romney’s son Craig, who is fluent in Spanish, has also been out stumping in Nevada and Florida.

And, last month, Romney also sat down with the Spanish-language behemoth Univision for a wide-ranging interview.

Obama’s support from Latino voters nationwide hit new highs in two national polls: A CNN poll released Tuesday had him at 70 percent to 26 for Romney, while a Latino Decisions poll released on Monday had Obama leading Romney by 73 percent to 21. Romney’s campaign told The Hill earlier this summer that it was aiming for 38 percent of the national Latino vote.

But swing-state results matter much more, and they present a much murkier picture since there are few polls that have been conducted of Latinos and even fewer with large enough sample sizes of Hispanic voters for them to be trusted. A recent Florida poll from the Democratic-affiliated Public Policy Polling showed Romney running nearly even with Obama among Hispanics, a big jump from McCain’s 42 percent, although other polls have shown Obama with a big edge.

In Nevada, a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll showed Romney at 36 percent with Hispanics, a jump from McCain’s 22 percent in the state, but a recent PPP poll showed him at 25 percent support. In Colorado an ARG poll showed Romney at 38 percent support, the same number McCain won, but a PPP poll of that state had him at 29 percent with Hispanics.

Romney himself made a move toward assuaging Hispanics’ concerns on immigration, saying for the first time earlier this week that he wouldn’t rescind the visas of undocumented immigrants who were brought here at a young age that Obama issued this summer.

“The people who have received the special visa that the president has put in place, which is a two-year visa, should expect that the visa would continue to be valid. I’m not going to take something that they’ve purchased,” Romney told the Denver Post. “Before those visas have expired we will have the full immigration reform plan that I’ve proposed.”

Romney also attacked Obama for not pushing for a comprehensive immigration reform law, as he’d promised during the 2008 campaign, and promised he would pass a law, though he declined to say what that law would look like.

That’s a shift for Romney, who’d run hard to the right on immigration during the primary but has since tried to track back to the center on the issue. During the GOP primary process, he said he supported Arizona’s controversial immigration law, and last December said that he would veto the DREAM Act, a bill backed mostly by Democrats that would give some undocumented immigrants who’d graduated high school a path to citizenship.

Later on, Romney backed Rubio’s push to come up with a compromise proposal on the issue, but when Obama issued an executive order to give those young “DREAMers” visas, Rubio gave up on his efforts and Romney was put in a tough spot, refusing to say whether he would continue the policy if elected.
Obama’s campaign was quick to point out the shift.

“Throughout his campaign, Gov. Romney has made it absolutely clear that he is on the wrong side of every Latino voter priority and is the most extreme presidential candidate on immigration in modern history,” Obama campaign spokeswoman Gabriela Domenzain told The Hill. “On the other hand, Hispanics recognize that the president is moving Hispanic families forward: from reforming healthcare so that as many as 9 million previously uninsured Latinos will have access to care to doubling the amount of Pell grant funding so an additional 150,000 Hispanic students will be able to continue their education, to creating nearly 5.1 million jobs in the private sector over the last 30 months and supporting the DREAM Act and comprehensive immigration reform.”

Republicans with an eye on the fast-growing Hispanic population commended Romney’s comments and his campaign’s renewed focus, though some worry they’re coming too late.

“It’s the right move; they’re doing the right things. I just wish they had been doing them earlier,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell.