Asked about recent polls showing President Obama with as much as a 45-percentage-point lead over Mitt Romney among Hispanics, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said Thursday morning that Democrats’ advantage is due largely to “historic factors.”

“It seems as if the Republican Party, since George Bush got 40 percent when he first ran, has been losing the Hispanic vote. Why?” asked Fox News Channel host Brian Kilmeade.

(As our colleagues at The Fix point out in a post this morning, Bush garnered 35 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2000.)

“Well, first of all, there are some historic factors in place,” Rubio responded. “The reality is that there are communities in this country where there are Americans of Hispanic descent that have been Democrats for 20 or 30 years. Or they live in communities that are largely Democratic, and if you’re not part of the Democrat Party, well, you can’t participate in politics there. So, folks like that aren’t going to change their party affiliation in one election.”

He added: “Number two, I think the president has been working on the Hispanic community in some parts of this country for the better part of six to eight years, so that would be the second issue.”

When it comes to how the Republican Party should woo the Hispanic vote, Rubio argued that the GOP needs to make its case to Hispanics on economic issues.

Hispanics “want to desperately accomplish their own dreams, and more importantly, they want to leave their children better off than themselves. ... What Republicans need to do a better job [of] – consistently, not just this election, but for the next three decades – is make the argument that the free enterprise system is the only economic system in the world where that’s possible,” Rubio said.

“That’s what we’re here to defend, and that’s what the president’s policies are undermining. And if we do that, I think we’re going to do a lot better.”

Polling shows that heading into the general election, the Republican Party is starting out from behind when it comes to its favorability rating among Hispanics – and that negative views of the GOP are more than double those of the Democratic Party.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released on Tuesday shows that 22 percent of Hispanic adults have a positive view of the Republican Party, while 40 percent view the GOP negatively and 31 percent have a neutral view.

By contrast, 51 percent of Hispanics have a positive view of the Democratic Party, while 19 percent have a negative view and 26 percent are neutral. The survey had a 5.7 percentage-point margin of error.

One possible reason for those negative views among Hispanic voters is the tenor of this year’s GOP primary, during which the White House contenders voiced hardline stances on immigration and Romney described his policy as hinging on the idea of “self-deportation.”

Rubio, a potential Romney running mate, has sought to woo Hispanic voters through his work on a scaled-down version of the DREAM Act, which would benefit undocumented people who were brought to the country as children.

Even so, Romney, Rubio and others must contend with other members of their party who at times step on the GOP’s message when it comes to courting Hispanic voters: One of the stories currently on the homepage of the NBC Latino site, for instance, is about Rep. Steve King’s (R-Iowa) comparison of immigrants to dogs in describing how the U.S. has “the pick of the litter” among those who want to enter the country.


Marco Rubio’s path to prominence