Rom­ney faces hur­dle gain­ing His­panic votes

Viewed as boxed in by tough stance voiced on il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion is­sue

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY SETH MCLAUGH­LIN

GOP front-run­ner Mitt Rom­ney’s pledge to stick to the po­si­tions he has taken on the pri­mary trail could hurt him in a gen­eral elec­tion matchup with Pres­i­dent Obama, par­tic­u­larly with His­panic vot­ers over the ques­tion of im­mi­gra­tion.

Im­mi­gra­tion is per­haps the one is­sue where the for­mer Mas­sachusetts gov­er­nor has staked out the most con­ser­va­tive po­si­tion in the Re­pub­li­can pres­i­den­tial field. His in­sis­tence last week — try­ing to tamp down a flap over his ded­i­ca­tion to con­ser­va­tive prin­ci­ples — that he will carry his con­ser­va­tive stances into a gen­eral elec­tion es­sen­tially cuts off any chance he had to pivot this fall with His­panic vot­ers, who polls say have all but writ­ten off Mr. Rom­ney.

In the grind-it-out bat­tle for the Re­pub­li­can nom­i­na­tion, Mr. Rom­ney has vowed to veto the so-called Dream Act that would give cit­i­zen­ship to many chil­dren of il­le­gal im­mi­grants, called Ari­zona’s strict im­mi­gra­tion law a “model” for other states and wel­comed en­dorse­ments from hard-lin­ers against il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion.

“We have to be hon­est and rec­og­nize that he is hand­i­capped be­cause of what was said dur­ing the de­bates in the pri­mary,” said Al­fonso Aguilar, a for­mer Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial who runs the Latino Part­ner­ship for Con­ser­va­tive Prin­ci­ples. “He made state­ments ba­si­cally that peo­ple who are here il­le­gally, ev­ery­one, would have to go back, and he would cre­ate a sys­tem where they’d be en­cour­aged to leave and self-de­port.”

Mr. Aguilar said Mr. Rom­ney still has room to em­brace more mod­er­ate le­gal im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies, such as a de­mand-based guest-worker per­mit pro­gram or an in­crease in an­nual le­gal im­mi­gra­tion lim­its. And he said Mr. Obama also is vul­ner­a­ble on the is­sue, hav­ing failed to make good on his prom­ise to His­pan­ics to pur­sue an im­mi­gra­tion re­form bill his first year in of­fice.

A do-over seemed pos­si­ble last week un­til a top aide to Mr. Rom­ney com­pared the move from the pri­mary to the gen­eral elec­tion as a po­lit­i­cal Etch A Sketch — the toy where words and draw­ings can be erased with a shake of the hand, and rewrit­ten.

Mr. Rom­ney moved quickly to dis­own the anal­ogy, say­ing he will take the con­ser­va­tive po­si­tions from the pri­mary and run on them in the gen­eral elec­tion.

Frank Sharry, founder and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Amer­ica’s Voice, a pro-im­mi­gra­tion re­form group, said the in­ci­dent spells trou­ble for Mr. Rom­ney.

“Un­less the Etch-a-sketch comes with a time ma­chine that let’s him go back a year, I think he’s toast,” Mr. Sharry said. “I don’t know how he gets out the corner he painted him­self into.”

His­pan­ics are the fastest-grow­ing seg­ment of the elec­torate and a pow­er­ful vot­ing bloc in pres­i­den­tial elec­tions. Ge­orge W. Bush se­cured 40 per­cent of the His­panic vote in his suc­cess­ful 2000 and 2004 pres­i­den­tial runs. That changed in 2008 as His­pan­ics swung to­ward Mr. Obama, who pulled in 67 per­cent of their vote, com­pared to just 31 per­cent for Sen. John Mccain of Ari­zona.

In a na­tion­wide Fox News poll re­leased this month, 70 per­cent of His­pan­ics said they would vote for Mr. Obama and 14 per­cent for Mr. Rom­ney in a head-to-head matchup. Mean­while, nine out of 10 His­panic U.S. cit­i­zens said they sup­port the Dream Act, while eight in 10 said they sup­port a path to cit­i­zen­ship for il­le­gal im­mi­grants.

Al­berto Martinez, a Rom­ney cam­paign spokesman, said His­panic vot­ers care about is­sues other than im­mi­gra­tion and will be drawn to Mr. Rom­ney’s plans for the econ­omy.

“Un­like Pres­i­dent Obama, who has sought to di­vide and pan­der to the His­panic com­mu­nity, Gov. Rom­ney will ap­peal to His­pan­ics just as he ap­peals to all vot­ers — by out­lin­ing an op­ti­mistic vi­sion of eco­nomic growth, free­dom and op­por­tu­nity,” Mr. Martinez said.

Still, the trou­bling poll num­bers have gen­er­ated calls from some in the GOP for Mr. Rom­ney to tap Sen. Marco Ru­bio of Florida — who is Cuban-amer­i­can — as his run­ning mate. But Mr. Aguilar ques­tioned whether the Florida law­maker would have much ap­peal to His­pan­ics in the South­west and else­where.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Mitt Rom­ney has said he won’t aban­don the con­ser­va­tive po­si­tions he took in the Re­pub­li­can pri­maries, in­clud­ing those on il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion.

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