Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney greets supporters Monday in Mobile, Ala. (John David Mercer/AP)

Then a Fox News poll last week gave Obama a whopping five-to-one lead over Romney among Latinos, a group that gave President Bush about 40 percent of its vote in 2004 and gave John McCain, even with President Obama’s huge win, a fairly respectable 31 percent in 2008.

The poll found that Obama slightly leads even among Latinos who voted for McCain four years ago.

That much erosion takes really hard work — and Romney clearly has been up to the task: Unlike Bush and McCain, he’s staunchly opposed to the Dream Act, which provides avenues for citizenship for folks who entered the country illegally as minors.

Romney recently named former California governor Pete Wilson, despised among Latinos for pushing an anti-immigrant law there, honorary chair of his California campaign.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who helped write tough anti-immigration laws for Alabama and Arizona — which Romney called a “model” — is a Romney adviser.

Kobach has opined: “If you want to create a job for a U.S. citizen tomorrow, deport an illegal alien today.” Guaranteed to drive Latinos away.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, about is as popular with Latinos as the Devil, endorsed Romney last month. (Sheriff Joe Arpaio, now off on a wacky birther riff, hasn’t endorsed Romney this time but he did in 2008.)

Romney’s diligent efforts may be helping him secure the GOP nomination. But he may have turned Arizona (with 11 electoral votes), which since 1952 has only voted once for a Democratic candidate (Clinton in 1996), into a battleground state this year.

Loop Fans may remember that the Obama team briefly considered a push in Arizona in 2008 but backed off. Native son McCain had the state locked up.

And McCain won Arizona by a solid 8.5 points, getting 41 percent of the Latino vote. But if Obama had campaigned and won the Latino vote — then about 18 percent of the state’s eligible voters — by an 80-20 margin, McCain’s win might have been more like a squeaker.

In addition, the Latino turnout there in 2008 was only 36 percent — compared to a national average among Latino registered voters of 44.9, according to data compiled by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO).

Turnout, Arizona pollster and political analyst Mike O’Neil told the Loop, “is the entirety of the political equation.” The question has always been “can anyone wake up this sleeping giant” of the Latino vote, he added. “I’ve heard it over and over and it’s never happened.”

Some Democrats are looking to former Pima County, Ariz. deputy sheriff Richard Carmona to be the alarm clock. Carmona is running in the Democratic primary to be the candidate for an open Senate seat.

If he gets the Democratic nomination, Carmona, a Green Beret, winner of two Purple Hearts in Vietnam and President George W. Bush’s surgeon general, may boost Latino turnout. And Obama campaign workers are now in Arizona big-time.

Sensing the problem, some Republicans have mentioned the need for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) to be on the ticket as the vice presidential candidate to stop the erosion.

But Rubio, whose parents left Cuba during the Batista dictatorship, “has no legs outside Florida,” according to pollster Gary Segura of Latino Decisions.

A national poll in January, Segura said, found 25 percent said Rubio on the ticket would make them “somewhat or much more likely,” to vote for the GOP, but 19 percent said it would make them somewhat or much less likely and 47 percent of respondents said it would have no effect at all.

Romney “may try to tack back” after the primaries, said political scientist Ruy Teixeira, “but the damage is done.”

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