Mitt’s Message To Hispanics: You Ain’t Special!

A year ago, one of the most commonly discussed scenarios for an Obama defeat in 2012 was his potential weakness among Hispanic voters, an important part of his 2008 coalition (and crucial in several battleground states) that had suffered disproportionately from bad economic times and whose leaders were tangibly unhappy with the president for failing to pursue comprehensive immigration reform.

Today an oversample of Hispanic voters in a NBC-Wall Street Journal survey supplies the latest evidence that Obama may be on track to match his 2008 performance among Hispanic voters: he currently leads Romney by a 61-27 margin, within range of his 67-31 margin over McCain in 2008. Romney’s famously hard-line position on immigration, which he used to great effect in the primaries to validate himself among conservatives (and to dispatch Rick Perry), is presumably a factor in his poor standing among Hispanics (outside the Cuban-American and Puerto Rican communities where there is relatively little concern about immigration policy).

Interestingly enough, the same day this survey was released Romney spoke to a prominent Hispanic business group called the Latino Coalition–and, as TPM’s Benjy Sarlin explains, did not mention immigration policy even once:

Romney’s lack of any reference to immigration on Wednesday was especially glaring given that the Latino Coalition has strongly advocated for comprehensive immigration reforms in recent years. While Romney’s speech was warmly received, several attendees told TPM they hoped he would get his act together now that the general election had begun.

Angela Franco, president of the Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and a personal supporter of Romney, said she believed he needed to come up with a more productive plan than “self deportation” — and soon.

“You can’t take everyone out of the country because they support a lot of the economy — hospitality, restaurants, everywhere you go there are Hispanic people working,” she told TPM. “It’s something that needs to be addressed. He cant just close his eyes and say, ‘We’ll deal with it later,’ it’s something he needs to take over and have a solution.”

The contrast grew more pronounced later in the day, when Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), considered high on Romney’s list of potential running mates, addressed the crowd to register his disgust at Congress’s inability to help “young people who find themselves in an undocumented status through no fault of their own.”

Perhaps Romney is going to modify his position on immigration somewhere down the line, or appeal to Hispanics via the choice of a running-mate (e.g., Marco Rubio). Maybe he’s convinced that lower turnout will reduce the effect of Obama’s advantage in this demographic. Quite possibly he’s just determined to stick with his “economic referendum” message day in and day out, regardless of the audience (which might be viewed as admirable if he had not pandered so egregiously to conservative constituencies during the primaries). But at the moment, the message he’s sending to Hispanics specifically is that they are not “special” enough to deserve an answer to their questions about his policies.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.