Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney was recently overheard bluntly telling donors something that's long been obvious to political number-crunchers: If the GOP can't win over Latino voters, it "spells doom for us." Recent polls show Romney trailing President Obama by more than 40 points among Latinos, and that could mean all the difference in states like Colorado, Nevada, Virginia, and Florida. In other words, says Brian Montopoli at CBS News, if Romney can't close the Hispanic gap, he'll probably lose. But how does he win over Latinos without alienating the hardline border-security GOP base? Here, four ideas:
1. Embrace immigration-friendly reforms
"Romney tacked further to the right on immigration than he probably would have liked to during the GOP primary," says CBS News' Montopoli. Embracing Arizona's tough anti-immigration law and saying he'd veto the Democrats' Dream Act, which would pave a road to citizenship for illegal immigrants raised in the U.S., might have helped him win the GOP nomination, but it did him no favors with Latino voters. Now he's already saying privately that he would back a weaker GOP version of the Dream Act — and as it turns out, prominent Latino surrogate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is offering one. Romney should embrace Rubio's "Dream 2.0" enthusiastically, says Tamar Jacoby in the Los Angeles Times. Getting on the right side of the immigration "threshold" would immediately "solve his problem communicating with Latino voters."
2. Convince Latinos he's better for their wallets
Romney's basic problem is that Latinos don't trust him, and have "developed an attachment" to the Democratic Party, says Jonathan Chait at New York. That's why he's smart to pitch "his candidacy in purely transactional terms:" If you support me, I'll help your bottom line. With that strategy, he doesn't have to worry about selling his personality to voters who clearly have doubts about him. Yes, forget the "Hispandering" on immigration and other so-called "very important 'Hispanic issues,'" says Esther J. Cepeda of the Washington Post Writers Group. Romney should focus "wholeheartedly on the economy," jobs, and education — things "the majority of registered Latino voters" actually care about.
3. Throw hardline anti-immigration backers under the bus
Latino voters are a diverse bunch, Vanderbilt University political scientist Efrén Pérez tells The Huffington Post, but when a candidate like Romney throws out "this kind of 'self-deportation, anti-amnesty,' language... Latinos become the single-issue voting block that some people think they are." Right, Romney won't up his share of the Latino vote by "wolfing down tacos and mumbling a few phrases in Spanish," says Linda Chavez at the Chicago Sun-Times. He has to fix his "immigration problem" by recanting his hardline positions and ridding his campaign of "ideologues and hatemongers" like adviser Kris Kobach, "the zealot behind several state anti-illegal immigrant laws."
4. Lean on surrogates like Rubio to make the sale for him
The most powerful campaign surrogate will be Romney's running mate, and Latinos like Rubio and Gov. Susana Martinez (R-N.M.) are frequently mentioned as top VP picks. But even if he doesn't pick a Latino as his No. 2, Rubio is out campaigning with Romney, delivering "a jolt of energy aimed at an uninspired Republican base and a message of inclusion to Latino voters," says Maeve Reston at the Los Angeles Times. If Romney can't win over Latinos himself, expect to see more of his Latino ambassadors — including Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuño and even his son, Craig Romney, who speaks fluent Spanish — hitting the trail.