Elections 2012

May 24, 2012


 Romney between a conservative rock and a Latino hard place. Or is he?


A brand new poll shows Mitt Romney trailing President Obama among Hispanic voters by a huge margin. Again. But it may not matter.

This time, the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows Obama crushing Romney among Latinos, 61 percent to 27. On the bright side for Romney, that's an improvement over the 45 points he lagged behind in a Pew Research Center poll in December.

Still, it shows Romney -- at this point at least - - is doing even worse than John McCain did against Obama in 2008. Exit polls show Obama beat him among Hispanics 67 percent to 31. And it makes hitting the 40 percent of the Latino vote that most strategists say the GOP needs if they want to beat Obama seem virtually impossible.

But in the glass half-empty, half-full view, Romney may not need 40 percent at all. He may just have to keep Obama from getting 60 percent.

There are plenty of reasons Mitt is doing so poorly, not the least of which is his hard line (although, apparently, adapting on an as-needed basis) immigration stance. As much as the Republicans want to insist that this election is about the economy, the severe campaign rhetoric that permeated the primaries still lingers.

What the Republican candidates said then hurt. It still does.

It also doesn't help that as much as Romney now wants to disavow his connection to Kris Kobach, the Kansas Secretary of State who helped craft Arizona's show us your papers if you "look illegal" law and its ilk, he can't. Kobach, and the tea party GOP conservatives, won't let him. If he really stops using Kobach as an advisor on immigration issues or, worse, steps away from Kobach's philosophy of making life so miserable for undocumented immigrants they "self-deport," he risks alienating those ultra-conservative voters.

And, as much as the GOP tries to remind Latinos that Obama hasn't delivered the immigration reform he promised, most Latinos know it's because the Republicans blocked his efforts. So, the GOP may say, "See, he broke his promise," but that's not really honest. He tried. Republicans killed it. Latinos know it.

So, it would appear that Mitt is playing an impossible game of catch up with Latinos.

The "it's the economy, stupid" argument won't work. More than half of Latinos, 54 percent to be exact, like the way the president is handling that, the NBC/WSJ poll found. And, 40 percent think things are improving.

So what's a candidate to do?

Forget 'em.

Romney's campaign, at least so far, is paying only token attention to Hispanics. He still doesn't have a Spanish-language website. He just started his first Spanish-language ad campaign. That's a simple translation of his English ad, and he's only spending $1.5 million on it. The president, by comparison, launched a multi-state, $25 million campaign last month.

But all that effort and all that support may not mean much for the president on Election Day.

Latinos have the lowest turnout rate of any demographic group. Pew found that fewer than 1-in-3 of Hispanic registered voters cast ballots in 2010, compared to nearly half of non- Hispanic whites and 44 percent of blacks. Among youth, the rate is even lower. Barely 17.6 percent of Latino voters under 30 turned out.

Even worse for the president, the new NBC/WSJ poll found a lack of enthusiasm for the upcoming election among Hispanic voters. Only 68 percent are highly interested, compared to 81 percent of the general population.

Also, GOP legislatures across the country are implementing a rash of new voter ID laws and fees, voter roll purges, and voter registration restrictions. Some Latino advocacy groups contend the laws are a Republican assault on voter rights, designed deliberately to limit the participation of minorities on Election Day.

Guess who's one of the leading figures behind the new laws? Yep, Kris Kobach. (What's this guy's thing with Latinos, anyway?)

Put it all together, and Romney may not need the 40 percent or better George W. got in 2004. That has become the gold standard. But if enough Hispanics won't, or can't, vote, Romney can win with a much lower number.

And that may be the strategy that turns Romney's rock-and-a-hard-place into a sweet spot.