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Republican Party's Latino outreach off to a stumbling start

May 08, 2012|By Paul West
  • Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, at a round-table discussion with Hispanic business owners in Tempe, Ariz., on April 20.
Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney,… (Jae C. Hong / Associated…)

WASHINGTON -- A top staffer for the Republican National Committee got the party’s election-year outreach to Latino voters off to a disastrous public start Monday when she told a roomful of reporters that likely GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, a hard-liner on immigration, was still formulating his position on the issue.

“As a candidate, to my understanding, that he’s still deciding what his position on immigration is,” said Bettina Inclàn, who became the RNC’s director of Hispanic Outreach in January. “I can’t talk about something that I don’t know what the position is.”

Inclàn, a former executive director of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly who worked in Rick Scott’s 2010 campaign for governor of Florida, had just finished attacking President Obama’s record on immigration. “He talked about uniting families, and all he’s done is deport more immigrants than any president in American history,” she told a news conference at Republican headquarters in Washington.

That prompted a reporter to ask how the RNC’s Latino outreach team would answer an undecided Hispanic voter who might wonder, having watched the GOP debates,  whether Romney’s approach would be to deport even more people. Inclàn’s stumbling response prompted an immediate flurry of critical Twitter messages and a swift attack from the Obama campaign.

“Over the past year Mitt Romney has proven time and time again that he is the most extreme presidential candidate in modern history on immigration. His position may be inconvenient, but it has been clear,” the president’s campaign said a statement emailed to reporters.

No less an authority than Romney himself has highlighted the party’s urgent need to improve its standing with Latino voters. He told donors in Florida not long ago that polls showing President Obama with lopsided support among Latinos “spells doom for us.”

Moderating his position won’t be easy, since it would open Romney to fresh criticism of political opportunism. 

Romney dug himself a hole with many Latino voters by taking hard-line positions designed to appeal to Republican conservatives during the GOP primaries. He attacked Texas Gov. Rick Perry for signing  a law that provides in-state tuition to some undocumented students. He said he would veto the Dream Act, which would provide citizenship to some children brought into the U.S. illegally. He praised Arizona’s controversial  SB 1070 immigration law and spoke about the need for those in the country illegally to “self-deport.”

A possible escape hatch for Romney in the general election would be to put Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a Cuban American, on the ticket. Rubio is currently crafting an alternative to the Dream Act that Romney has yet to endorse or oppose.

paul.west@latimes.com

Original source: Republican Party's Latino outreach off to a stumbling start

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