Romney Hispanic Outreach Backfires

By Raisa Camargo, Voxxi

WASHINGTON — A Mitt Romney Hispanic outreach event melted down Tuesday when its director declined to answer a question about the Republican’s position on immigration because “he’s still deciding.”

Her answer quickly drew Democratic criticism for the Hispanic Republican coming-out party and helped bring into focus the ongoing problem Romney has had in attracting critical Hispanic support.

When a reporter asked what would be the response to an undecided Hispanic voter on immigration — a point of contention with Romney — outreach directorBettina Inclan said she could not comment on that issue because she wasn’t sure where he stood.

“I think as a candidate, to my understanding, he’s still deciding what his position on immigration is,” said Inclan, while emphasizing that jobs and the economy will be key to attracting Latinos into the Republican fold.

Media reports immediately characterized Inclan’s comments as the epitome of how Republicans are “out of touch” with Latinos. The Washington Post said, “Republicans appear to have significant ground to make up when it comes to courting Hispanic voters.”

Democratic Hispanic Congressional members such as Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill) pounced on Inclan’s statement.

“Here’s a suggestion for anyone who wants to run for the highest office in the land: come up with an immigration policy before you compete in 30 or 40 primaries,” Gutierrez said. “Now, as he is hitting the erase button on everything outrageous he said during the primaries, he cannot even say what his basic approach to immigration will be?”

Republicans quickly switched to damage-control mode and Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski sought to minimize her party’s Hispanic outreach director’s words.

Kukoski clarified that they never said the former governor wasn’t sure about his position on immigration and added that they just started transitioning with Romney’s team a few weeks ago.

“Let’s take it back a step here and understand that the RNC’s lane in this campaign is to do voter outreach and get-out-the-vote efforts, and that’s what we’re going to do, and that’s what these people were hired to do,” said Kukoski.

Beyond the immigration flare-up, Inclan offered little new insight regarding the GOP Hispanic outreach strategy.

She said part of their strategy is to appeal to Latinos in six states they consider crucial this election cycle: Florida, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina and Virginia. The plan coincides with hiring six state Hispanic outreach directors.

What sets their efforts apart from 2008, Inclan explained, is that this is the first time Republicansare going to mobilize Latinos on the ground.

“The Democrats were much better at putting people on the ground and making it part of their actual voter contact plan,” Kukoski added. “We are now doing that.”

Community outreach in each of these states involves a three-part approach, which includes promoting bilingual communication on issues pertinent to Latinos, Inclan told reporters in a roundtable discussion at the RNC headquarters. She added that they want to make sure the party is also targeting information on specific Hispanic groups who Republicans need to court in order to win.

When it came to targeting national Hispanic turnout, Inclan refused to give out specific details explaining they had a “playbook” or a strategy that they couldn’t reveal.

The discussion opens a wider question on whether voter turnout will be a good thing for the Republican party.

Voter registration has become a driving component of the Democratic campaign, yet Antonio Gonzalez, president of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project (SVREP), concluded both parties are falling short when it comes to reaching out to the larger Latino electorate.

“They’re making extra efforts to win their election,” said Gonzalez. “The battleground states represent about 15 percent of the Latino voters… but that won’t stem the negative trend in other states, which represent 80 percent of the Latino vote. That’s up to us.”

In the six states being targeted by Republicans, the Latino population has grown exponentially. Latinos account for 46 percent of the population in New Mexico; in Colorado 13 percent of registered voters are Latino; Nevada has about 14 percent of Latino registered voters — and in all of these states Obama is leading Romney in polling.

Gonzalez explained that voter mobilization in these battleground states could be a boost for Obama’s campaign, while projecting that Hispanics will have an 80 percent turnout this election cycle. Both the Democratic and Republican establishment will be sprucing their mobilization efforts.

“Obama doesn’t have a big problem with Hispanic voters; it’s more like a malaise going across voters,” said Gonzalez. “Obama has like 20 offices in Florida, he has dozens of offices in Denver. There’s one behind every tree. Turn over a rock and there’s one there.”

When it comes to Republicans strategy, Juan Sepulveda, Obama’s senior adviser for Hispanic Affairs, said there isn’t much clout to their appeal considering the scale of on-the-ground efforts.

“Take any one of these battleground states and find out how many offices that they (Republicans) have, how many people…organizers they have on the ground and you’ll see it’s not even close. And that’s what happened four years ago,” he said.

Raisa Camargo is a staff writer at Voxxi.

This article first appeared in Voxxi.

[Photo via]

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