Romney Seeks to Blunt Obama Edge With Swing-State Latinos

Romney Seeks to Blunt Obama Advantage With Swing-State Hispanics
A Hispanic delegate holds a sign at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

Mitt Romney pledged to help small businesses grow as well as pursue “permanent immigration reform” as he tries to cut into President Barack Obama’s support among Hispanic voters with 50 days left before Election Day.

“Candidate Obama promised us a world of limitless hope,” the Republican presidential nominee said today to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce convention in Los Angeles. “What we got instead is a world where hope has painful limits -- limits that make it harder to start a business, to grow a business, or to find a job.”

Romney is seeking to reset his campaign as he’s lost ground in polls following the political conventions in late August and early September and after the debate -- at least temporarily -- shifted to foreign policy following the death last week of a U.S. ambassador in Libya.

“We do think the timing is right at this moment to reinforce the specifics, more specifics, of the Romney plan for a stronger middle class,” senior Romney adviser Ed Gillespie told reporters on a conference call today.

Gillespie called the change a “natural progression” after voters learned more about Romney’s biography during the Aug. 27-30 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida. He said the effort wouldn’t outline new policies and instead would seek to help voters better understand Romney’s plans via speeches, appearances by surrogates and paid advertising.

Tactical Shift

The shift in tactics comes as the Romney campaign is dealing with a report in Politico yesterday that said his aides are divided over the leadership role and style of his chief strategist Stuart Stevens.

Romney, in an interview today with Telemundo television network, said he has a “terrific campaign,” and there will be “no changes” to his team.

A nationwide poll released Sept. 14 by CBS News and the New York Times showed Obama with a 3-percentage-point edge among likely voters, and surveys in battleground states have shown him with larger margins.

In his speech today, Romney sought to turn the campaign conversation back to the national deficit, small businesses and jobs -- topics that may work to the strengths of the former Bain Capital LLC private-equity executive. Still, he remarks didn’t include many specifics.

‘Hard Hit’

“No one is exempt from the pain of this economy,” he said. “The Hispanic community has been particularly hard hit.”

Obama’s campaign derided Romney’s speech.

“On Issue after issue -- from energy to spending, health care and immigration -- he did not propose a single new idea,” Lis Smith, an Obama campaign spokeswoman, said in an e-mailed statement.

In a recorded message to the convention, Obama told those at the convention that the choice they face in the election “couldn’t be bigger,” as he suggested that an Arizona law cracking down on illegal immigrants could become a “model for the nation” with a federal government under Republican control.

Obama’s campaign also put up an Internet video today that mocked Romney for seeking an “extreme makeover” when it comes to appealing to Hispanic voters.

Romney’s pitch to Hispanic voters aims to blunt the support Obama enjoys especially in battleground states with large Hispanic populations such as Florida, Colorado, Nevada and Virginia.

‘Fire Up’

“He doesn’t have much Latino support, especially compared to Obama, but the support he does have he needs to fire up and make sure he has with him,” said Victoria M. DeFrancesco Soto, a fellow at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas in Austin.

Hispanics helped propel Obama to the White House in the 2008 election. He won 67 percent of their vote, compared with 31 percent for Republican John McCain, according to exit polls. Obama led Romney 66 percent to 29 percent in a survey of registered Hispanic voters by the polling firm Latino Decisions and impreMedia that was taken Aug. 31 through Sept. 6.

Romney must secure a larger proportion of the Hispanic vote than McCain to have a chance at winning the White House, DeFrancesco Soto said. As part of that, she said, he’ll also try to convince Obama’s Hispanic supporters to “stay home” on Election Day because of disappointment with his failure to deliver the overhaul of immigration law he promised in 2008.

“For years, Republicans and Democrats seem to have been more interested in playing politics with immigration than with actually fixing it,” Romney said in his speech. “Candidate Obama said that one of his highest priorities would be to fix immigration in his first year in office.”

Self-Deport Plan

Romney, 65, started the general-election season with an uphill climb with Hispanics. During the Republican primary contest, he used tougher rhetoric than some of his adversaries when discussing illegal immigration, stressing his opposition to any proposal that gives legal status to undocumented immigrants without first requiring that they leave the U.S., and advocating a program that he said would lead to “self-deportation.”

He made no distinction at that time for young illegal immigrants brought to the country as children -- a group Obama targeted with an executive order paving the way to citizenship for some of them.

Unemployment Issue

Since securing the nomination, Romney has tried to moderate his position by stressing the difficulties Hispanics have experienced in the economic downturn. The jobless rate among Hispanics was 10.2 percent last month.

In a move that pleased many Hispanics, Obama on June 15 announced implementation of key parts of the so-called “Dream Act,” including exemption from deportation for some illegal immigrants under the age of 30 brought to the U.S. before they turned 16 and who have been in the country for at least five straight years. Those exempted must have no criminal history and are attending school or have earned a high school diploma, or have served in the military.

Romney has said he favors awarding permanent residency to foreign students who obtain advanced degrees in math, science or engineering at universities, saying they should have green cards stapled to their diplomas.

“Instead of playing immigration politics with these children, I will pursue permanent immigration reform, and I will start by ensuring that those who serve in our military have the opportunity to become legal permanent residents of the country they fought to defend,” he said in his speech.

Obama is campaigning today in the Ohio. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll released Sept. 13 showed him leading Romney there, 50 percent to 43 percent. Romney also trailed the president by 5 percentage points in Florida and Virginia, two additional states Obama won in 2008, the poll showed.

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