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Rubio downplays growing advantage for Democrats among Latino voters

"The reality is there are communities in this country where there are Americans of Hispanic descent that have been Democrats for 20 or 30 years or they live in communities that are largely Democratic and if you're not part of the Democratic Party, well, you can't participate in politics there. Folks like that aren't going to change their party affiliation in one election," Rubio told Fox News.

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The freshman senator, whom many have speculated could be toward the top of Mitt Romney's shortlist of potential running mates and who is of Cuban descent, did acknowledge that Democrats had been working hard to make inroads with the fastest-growing bloc of voters in the country.

"The president has been working on the Hispanic community in some parts of this country for the better part of six to eight years," Rubio said.

But Rubio said Republicans could win back Latino voters by convincing them that the vision of the American Dream that drew them as immigrants to the United States was only possible through conservative economic principles.

"What Republicans need to do a better job, consistently, not just this election, but for the next three decades, is make the argument that the free enterprise system is the only economic system in the world where that's possible. That's what we're here to defend and that's what the president's policies are undermining. And I think if we do that, we're going to do a lot better," Rubio said.

The Florida lawmaker also advocated for his revamped version of the DREAM Act, set to be introduced later this summer. The plan would strip provisions from the original bill that would provide permanent residency for the children of illegal immigrants who obtained a degree or completed military service and avoided trouble with the law. Instead, Rubio's version would provide visas for those students during their time in school and then allow them to apply for residency through the standard process.

"I want to make sure the things that are in the DREAM Act that don't work, we take care of in this new version. But ultimately I view it not so much as an immigration issue as a humanitarian issue. I mean, these are children who are in this country, who have no documents through no fault of their own — we should figure out a way to accommodate them in a way that does not encourage or reward illegal immigration. I think that's something we can accomplish and would be good for our nation," Rubio said.

Asked if he expected Mitt Romney to back the legislation, Rubio deferred, noting that the "finishing touches" have not yet been put on the bill. Romney has thus far avoided comment on the issue; at a forum of Latino businessmen and -women Wednesday in Washington, he did not mention the subject of immigration once.

"We're going to put [out] a plan I hope we can get a lot of Republicans to endorse, including the leader of our party, the nominee, Gov. Romney. It would not be fair to ask him to endorse it now, because we haven't finished it, we haven't ended with the finishing touches on it; however, I do think, I am confident, that whenever we come out with our plan, it will be something most Republicans and most Americans will support, and I hope that includes the governor," Rubio said.

But asked about Rubio earlier in the morning on Fox News, Romney acknowledged that his staff was keeping tabs on the senator's speeches and appearances, prompting further speculation he was being vetted as a potential running mate.

Asked about it later in the morning, Rubio smiled and quipped, "We read his speeches, too."