Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney,… (Steven Senne / AP Photo )
Reporting from Vernon Hills, Ill. — Buoyed by a blowout win in the Republican primary in Puerto Rico, Mitt Romney extrapolated from what he called an “extraordinary victory” on Sunday to the general election, suggesting that he could also win enough Latino votes in November to oust President Obama.
“Those people who don’t think that Latinos will vote for Republicans need to take a look at Puerto Rico and see there that conservative principles and Latino voters go together,” he said, listing interests Latinos shared with other voters, like jobs. “I intend to become our nominee, and I intend to get Latino voters to vote for a Republican and take back the White House.”
Romney’s prediction drew cheers from his mostly white audience in a suburb north of Chicago, although the comparison between the Puerto Rican GOP electorate and the broader Latino electorate is a stretch. Romney has antagonized many Latino voters with his suggestion that illegal immigrants would self-deport under tougher federal enforcement.
The former Massachusetts governor was introduced by his wife, Ann, although he first introduces her before she introduces him. She delivered a similar speech at the day’s three events, but in Vernon Hills, with the Puerto Rican results coming in, she called on Illinois voters to deliver a decisive win.
“We need to send a message that it’s time to coalesce, it’s time to come together, it’s for us to get behind one candidate and get the job done,” she said, saying that the Republican Party needed to turn its focus to defeating President Obama.
Throughout the day, Romney emphasized his business acumen, contrasting his 25 years of experience with Obama, who was a law professor, and his GOP competitors.
“If you’re in business, you have no choice but to be a fiscal conservative. If you spend more money than you take it, you go broke,” he said. This viewpoint, he said, was a big distinction between himself and the president. “He was a legislator in Illinois, where I understand if you don’t spend more money than you take in, you don’t get reelected.”
Romney, wearing jeans with his shirt sleeves rolled up, took questions from the audience, trading a hand-held microphone back and forth. When a young man asked why a moderate Republican should vote for him, Romney responded that he could not understand how young people could vote for Obama given the size of the debt under his leadership.
“You’re going to see massive obligations, which may crush your capacity to ever achieve your dreams,” he said.
One questioner, assuming Romney would win the nomination, encouraged him not to write off Illinois in the fall, suggesting he could win it.
“That’s encouraging. That’s encouraging. I haven’t decided whether we can get all 50 states or just close to them,” he said.
The turnout for Romney was so large that a couple hundred people were not let into the stuffy gymnasium, where Romney joked that the temperature was approaching 140 degrees.
J. Jensen, a 49-year-old architect wearing a brand-new black Romney T-shirt, listened to the candidate outside.
“I believe he’s our only chance to give small business a chance to survive in today’s economy,” said Jensen, whose firm has six employees. “I’m a small-business owner, and we’ve been getting crushed over the last five years. “
He said health insurance costs, taxes, gas prices and a credit crunch had seriously harmed his business. “I blame 95% of it on Obama,” he said. “Our clients haven’t been able to build anything."
Jensen said he would take any one of the four Republican presidential contenders over Obama, but plans to vote for Romney because of his experience as a businessman. He noted that Romney had a role in turning around the Olympics and creating Staples, the office supply company.
“That’s a pretty successful company,” he said.