Morris, 58, had volunteered for one of the most crucial jobs during one of the most crucial moments of this Republican presidential primary. The Cuban-born adviser to Mitt Romney hoped to persuade many of Florida’s 4.5 million Hispanics to support a candidate who has struggled to reach Hispanic voters in part because of his tough positions on illegal immigration. Morris had spent the past week buying Hispanic radio advertisements, cajoling Florida politicians into endorsements, making speeches in two languages and cashing in every favor earned during her 20 years as a political consultant. “Right now, our Hispanic outreach is me,” she said.
She had long been a political player in Orlando, but her value had skyrocketed along with the population around her. The number of Hispanic residents in the United States increased by 15 million during the last decade, four times the national growth rate. Some of the fastest expansion was here in Central Florida, where the Hispanic population doubled and where, for the first time, some counties are now made up mostly of minorities. These are the new swing voters in the swing districts of a swing state — and they are mostly Puerto Rican, Cuban and South American. Their support could decide Florida’s Republican presidential primary on Tuesday.
Morris hoped to win some of them over in part through a single event: a Romney rally scheduled for the next night at a paint factory in a Hispanic neighborhood of Orlando. She wanted the popular governor of Puerto Rico, Luis Fortuno, to fly in and make an endorsement. She wanted the crowd to wave signs in Spanish and Cuban ministers to offer a blessing. “The stakes are as high as they’ve ever been,” she said, so she was swallowing aspirin during the day and lying awake on the couch at night, sick from stress.
She approached a stop sign and changed the battery of her phone. The screen glowed to life, and eight new messages appeared. “Thank God,” she said. She reapplied lipstick and checked her reflection in the rearview mirror: still young-looking for a mother of five young adults, with stylish glasses, diamond earrings and her hair mussed for effect. She drove to her speech on time, brought a crowd of Orange County Republicans to their feet and then returned to the phone messages.
“You’re going to do this for me, okay?” she told a Romney staffer on the phone. “Everything has to be perfect tomorrow. This is my event.”
Morris had spurned other candidates to work for Romney because she thought he had the most in common with Hispanic voters in Florida. His hard line on immigration would not affect most Puerto Ricans and Cubans, she said, because U.S. rules allow Cubans to immigrate more easily and Puerto Ricans are U.S. ciitizens and are not affected by immigration law. Romney had five children, and so did she. They both had run successful businesses. “Hispanic voters care about family values and the economy,” she said. “He’s the most like me.”