Ruben Navarette Jr. raised an interesting question in his latest CNN article, “Could Mitt Romney be America’s first Hispanic President?” As Romney has swept through Iowa and New Hampshire it seems that the GOP could have its first Hispanic Presidential Nominee. Yes, Romney is Hispanic. His father was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, which borders Nevada and Texas. This is a fact that I often forget because Romney does not play the “ethnicity card” and has not attempted to use his Hispanic heritage to gain leverage with Hispanic voters.
In fact, Romney has repeatedly and publicly expressed his strong anti-illegal immigrant position on the campaign trail. He has promised to veto the Dream Act if it is passed in Congress and he holds the Executive Office. Furthermore, Romney has continually criticized his competitors, most notably Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry, for their “soft” stances on immigration. Most recently he signaled his agreement with South Carolina’s recently approved, “Arizona-style”-immigration law. His rhetoric on the subject will most likely get stronger over the next week, leading up to the January 21 South Carolina GOP Primary.
Romney may believe that such strong anti-immigrant positions will help him to solidify a conservative support base and win the GOP nomination, but how will that play out in a general election? The articles I have read and interviews I have watched with political and election experts have estimated that Romney would need to win somewhere between 30% and 40% of the Hispanic vote to win the general election. While a recent Pew Hispanic Center poll found that many Hispanics are unhappy with the Obama Administration’s deportation policy, they still favored Obama 68% to Romney’s 23% in a head-to-head comparison. Potential Hispanic voters overwhelmingly support Obama over a Hispanic candidate—Romney.
This is a dire situation for the Romney camp. It looks increasingly likely that Romney will win the GOP nomination and try to make Obama a one-term President. How can he rally the Hispanic vote? I believe that Romney may have taken a short-sighted approach to locking up the GOP nomination, and cost himself valuable Hispanic votes. As such, his advisors need to reconsider the message that Romney is sending to potential voters, especially with a trip to Florida for a key debate and primary coming up at the end of the month.
These are a few of Romney’s options once he has secured the nomination:
- Attempt to play up his Hispanic heritage.
- Gradually move towards a more moderate position on immigration.
- Choose a running mate that appeals to Hispanic voters.
- Run a lot more Spanish language ads. He only recently released his first.
- Press the flesh in Florida and other states with large Hispanic populations.
I expect the Romney campaign to use some combination of the aforementioned options, and maybe all of them. However, in my opinion, the second option is his best hope. If the general election started today he would be at a decisive disadvantage, according to the poll conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center. Romney and his campaign would be wise to begin looking to the future. In the general election where many predict that the economy will dominate discussions, his biggest battle with Obama very well may be for the Hispanic vote. Thus, the topic of immigration and other Hispanic voter issues probably will come to the forefront. While Romney might become the first Hispanic GOP candidate for President, it seems he might have already dug himself a hole with his fellow Hispanics that may prevent him from making history.
– Max Rava