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Mitt Romney makes leap with Hispanics

at 06:30 AM ET, 02/02/2012

Once thought to have a potential liability in appealing to Hispanics, Mitt Romney appears to have overcome his doubters.

One of Romney’s more remarkable turnarounds in the Florida primary between 2008 and 2012 was among the state’s many Hispanic voters. While he increased his vote share overall by 15 points, from 31 percent to 46 percent, he increased his performance among Hispanics by 40, from 14 percent in 2008 to 54 percent on Tuesday, according to exit polls.

That’s a pretty huge improvement, but how much does it mean going forward?

In reality, Romney’s tiny share of the Hispanic vote in 2008 seemed to be at least partially about who he was running against, versus any issues Hispanics had with him.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), after all, was the chief Republican behind comprehensive immigration reform — indeed, one of the only Republicans behind it — and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani has long had a good relationship with the Hispanic community, including taking 43 percent of the Hispanic vote in his 1997 mayor’s race.
Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R) shakes hands with one of his campaign volunteers as he visits his headquarters on Tuesday in Tampa, Fla. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

So when McCain (54 percent) and Giuliani (24 percent) combined for nearly 80 percent of the Hispanic vote in Florida in 2008, there wasn’t much left over for Romney, who was less of a known quantity to Hispanics, to catch on.

Indeed, despite his poor showing among Hispanics in Florida, Romney did well among them in Nevada a couple weeks prior (41 percent), and did decent among them in California a week later on Super Tuesday (27 percent).

In other words, Romney’s vote share among Hispanics in Florida in 2008 was not a great indicator of his overall performance among them.

But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t troubling.

Romney’s campaign was dead-set in the runup to Tuesday’s contest on avoiding such an embarrassing number again — or really, any signs of weakness among such a key demographic.

“We took those 14 percent numbers pretty damn seriously,” said one Romney aide, granted anonymity to speak candidly about strategy. “You don’t go from 14 to 54 by accident.”

As Fix friend Reid Wilson pointed out earlier this week, Romney’s aversion to taking extreme positions in the GOP primary — for fear of paying a price in the general election — hasn’t really translated to his immigration policy. Romney has gone further than his opponents on the issue, opposing the DREAM Act and laying out a policy of “self-deportation” that some say could cost him come November.

In reality, we won’t know for sure what that means in the general election unless — or until — Romney is the GOP nominee. But it didn’t seem to hurt him in Florida.

Not for lack of trying of course. Newt Gingrich tried to carve out a much more immigrant-friendly spot in the race and at one point ran an ad that labeled Romney the most anti-immigrant candidate in the field.

That attack backfired badly, though, when Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who is neutral in the GOP primary, lashed out at Gingrich for the ad, and Gingrich was forced to take it down. Rubio has extremely good numbers among Florida Republicans, and particularly the state’s Hispanic Republicans.

By the end, Romney’s margin over Gingrich among Hispanics — 25 points — was significantly bigger than his overall margin.

Whether Romney will have as much appeal to Hispanics as McCain or former President George W. Bush — who took more than 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004 — is very much an open question. Florida Hispanic Republicans aren’t analogous to all Hispanic Republicans, much less all Hispanics.

Which means the task is much different in the general election.

“Gingrich’s attacks on Romney in Hispanic community were a little sloppy and ineffective,” said Florida Hispanic Republican Ana Navarro, how supported Jon Huntsman before he dropped out.. “You can bet Barack Obama’s attacks on Romney would be laser focused.”

But regardless, Florida was certainly a big step in the right direction for Romney.

And provided he can emulate that in upcoming states with large Hispanic populations like Nevada on Saturday and Arizona later this month, the doubts will start to disappear.

DeMint says Romney needs to ‘backtrack’ on ‘very poor’ comments: Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said Wednesday that Romney needs to ‘backtrack’ and reframe comments in which he said he wasn’t “concerned about the very poor.”

“He needs to address it,” DeMint told Roll Call. “Because I know he does care about the poor. But I think he was trying to make a case that they’re taken care of.”

That is, in fact, the case that Romney was trying to make.

Unfortunately, as we noted Wednesday, offering up something that can so easily be taken out of context isn’t very helpful for Romney.

DeMint has not endorsed in the presidential race, but backed Romney in the 2008 race.

Meanwhile, Gingrich takes aim at Romney for the comments.

Gingrich stumbles in Nevada: Gingrich isn’t off to a great start in Saturday’s Nevada caucuses. The Post’s Amy Gardner reports that Gingrich’s first day in the state was marked by discord.

First, a photo op with Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) was called off for reasons that weren’t immediately clear.

Then, a mixup meant supporters were asked to show up to a rally an hour and a half before the candidate was scheduled to arrive. Not to mention the fact that Gingrich is notoriously late.

Unfortunately for Gingrich, it appears to be more of the same.

Sasha Issenberg’s story in Slate on Wednesday laid out a Gingrich Florida campaign that wasn’t exactly getting it done.

Fixbits:

A big announcement from Donald Trump is due today in Las Vegas. Whatever could it be?

Romney takes a five-point lead in the national Gallup tracking poll.

Romney: Still singing.

Senate Democrats are pushing a bill to force super PACs to disclose their donors. Super PACs have been a big help to the GOP.

Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and his wife celebrate 55 years of marriage. (Bonus picture of the two from back then!)

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) may endorse a presidential candidate before his state’s Feb. 28 primary.

Must-reads:

For Romney and Paul, a strategic alliance between outsider and establishment” — Amy Gardner, Washington Post

Five Paths Forward for G.O.P. Nomination” — Nate Silver, New York Times

Who’s Financing the ‘Super PACs’” — New York Times

 
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