GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney addresses the Veterans of Foreign… (Eric Gay, Associated Press )
Reporting from Washington — Add the competition for Latino votes to the swiftly escalating battle between Republican presidential contenders Mitt Romney and Rick Perry.
Romney will address the Republican National Hispanic Assembly of Florida convention Sept. 2 during a previously planned fund-raising trip to Tampa, Fla.
Historically, Latinos have not been a huge factor in Republican nominating races. But they could be next winter, especially in Florida, which is shaping up as one of the biggest tests of 2012. If Perry and Romney meet expectations in the early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, the Sunshine State could be a pivotal showdown, as it was four years ago.
As governor of Texas, Perry started off as a dove on immigration, but he’s become more of a hard-liner in recent years. He signed a measure to provide in-state tuition for children of undocumented immigrants, similar to the Dream Act that Republicans have blocked in Congress. In his most recent reelection, Perry received approximately 38% of the Latino vote.
The ability to attract votes from Latinos, the nation’s fastest growing minority group, is considered an important electability factor in a general election. Romney does not have the same history with Latinos as Perry does, so the Florida appearance will be an opportunity for him to showcase his appeal to that key group.
Perry has pulled ahead of Romney in recent national polling, including a new Quinnipiac survey out Wednesday. After losing his early lead, Romney said he didn’t plan to change his approach, but he’s certainly been changing his schedule.
This week Romney shuffled his Labor Day plans to compete with Perry in the first Southern primary state. The event, a Columbia, S.C., forum organized by that state’s "tea party" senator, Republican Jim DeMint, will showcase six GOP contenders, including Perry and Romney, who will be appearing on the same stage for the first time, though not at the same time.
Candidates will appear individually to answer questions from a panel.