Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a rising star who has been talked about as a potential running mate for Romney said: “When you hear these anti-illegal immigration voices . . . they sound as if they are not just anti-illegal immigration. They sound like anti-immigration and anti-immigrant voices. The vast majority of Republicans don’t talk that way, but, unfortunately, all the voices that talk that way happen to be Republicans.”
But there are signs that Latinos are not as enamored with Obama as they once were. A Gallup poll this month, for example, found that his job approval among Hispanics was only nine percentage points above the national average; in earlier surveys, it had run as much as 20 points above the overall number.
Although Obama is not likely to lose the Latino vote to Romney, he may have trouble motivating enough Latinos to come to the polls, said Matt Barreto, a University of Washington political science professor who heads the nonpartisan polling firm Latino Decisions. “More people are less excited this year.”
Still, Romney’s problems run deeper.
During the primaries, Romney ran to the right of his GOP rivals on immigration, criticizing Texas Gov. Rick Perry for signing a law that would grant in-state college tuition rates to illegal immigrants and clashing with former House speaker Newt Gingrich over whether there should be what Gingrich called “some level of humanity” in allowing long-term illegal residents to stay in the country. Romney called Arizona’s controversial immigration enforcement law — which is set for argument next week before the Supreme Court — “a model” for the nation.
“I cannot see any possible path right now for Romney to get anywhere near 40 percent [of the Hispanic vote] outside Florida,” where there is a strong contingent of conservative Cubans, Barreto said. “They have done so much damage. . . . It will be very difficult for them to backpedal that.”
Romney insisted, however, that it is possible. “We’re going to be able to get Hispanic voters,” he said at the fundraiser Sunday. “We’re going to overcome the issue of immigration.”
One potential inroad that Republicans are looking to is a scaled-back version of the Dream Act being crafted by Rubio. The original bill, which enjoys overwhelming support among Hispanics, would offer a path toward citizenship to children who were brought to the country illegally by their parents. Rubio’s proposal would allow them to study and work in this country legally on a non-immigrant visa.
But Rubio said his bill — which he said is “designed to address a very small and select group of people, young people, who find themselves undocumented through no fault of their own” — would not do much to address the deeper divide that has grown between between Latinos and the Republican Party.
“The broader issue that I’ve outlined is not the kind of thing you can just put together and do in a PowerPoint presentation,” he said. “It involves a real commitment to both the rhetoric and the policy that, over time, will allow you to make a compelling argument that, at a minimum, they should give us a chance, election by election.”
Polling analyst Scott Clement contributed to this report.