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January, 26th 2012

No, no puedes

– Liz Mair

The Hispanic vote: Everyone in presidential politics wants and needs a good chunk of it to win (including in big states like Florida). President Obama will need somewhat more of it to win than whichever Republican we wind up nominating.

So, opponents of Obama will undoubtedly cheer this news this morning, from Politico*:

The conservative Hispanic Leadership Network, which is co-sponsoring tonight's presidential debate on CNN, had Republican-leaning Resurgent Republic survey 500 Hispanic Voters in Florida last week. On the generic ballot, President Barack Obama gets 46% (compared to 57% in 2008). There's an even 46-45 split on whether it's time for someone else to be president, but 48 percent of independent Hispanics say yes. Six in 10 say the president hasn't delivered on his campaign promises. 40% say the situation for Hispanics is about the same under Obama (38% say it's worse; 15% say its better). 42% blame Obama's policies for making matters worse. 56% said Obama is weaker than they expected.

Yes: Mr. "I'm for comprehensive immigration reform but I voted for five poison pill amendments that killed it in the Senate" turns out to be falling short of Hispanic voters' expectations.

No, no puedes, it would seem. [intro]

Meanwhile, Romney supporters who recognize the importance of Hispanic voters in Florida (as well they should, since their vastly greater of support of McCain over him in 2008 basically cost Romney the state) will be cheering this tidbit relating to polling out of ABC, as well as their effective victory with Newt Gingrich pulling down a Spanish language radio ad describing Romney as "anti-immigrant" after Marco Rubio complained about it:

In the Sunshine State, where about one in 10 likely Republican primary voters are Latino, Mitt Romney has a large, 26-point lead over his closest rival Newt Gingrich, 49 percent to 23 percent among Latino Republicans. Among all Florida Latinos, the margin is 35 to 20 in favor of Romney, with 21 percent undecided.

Hmm... not so fast, I say. First, the other news from this poll is:

Only nine months from Election Day, Latino voters — the nation’s fastest-growing voting bloc — favor President Obama over all the Republican candidates by a wide margin, according to a new poll conducted by Latino Decisions for Univision News and ABC News, a welcome boost for a White House facing a difficult reelection fight.

[...]

In a hypothetical head-to-head general election matchup with Obama, 40 percent of Florida Latinos say they would vote for Romney, while 50 percent prefer Obama. But if Gingrich secures the GOP nomination, Obama would have an even greater advantage among Latinos in the state, with only 38 percent supporting the former House Speaker and 52 percent opting for the president.

[...]

On a national level, Obama enjoys even greater support among Latinos. Sixty-seven percent of respondents say they would vote for Obama in a general election bout with Romney, who only earned 25 percent support. Seventy percent say they would vote for Obama, compared to 22 percent for Gingrich. 

Second, there may be some methodological errors with it, so far as the Florida numbers specifically are concerned, but also more broadly:

But the poll has a clear flaw in how primary voters are defined. Respondents are asked whether they'd vote in the Republican primary as a yes/no question. But frequently pollsters ask voters to estimate their likelihood of voting in an election (only considering those most likely as potential voters). And importantly, Florida's primary is closed, meaning one already needs to be registered as a Republican in order to be eligible to vote in that contest. So a strong vote screen question in Florida would ask if voters were registered Republicans, and then only ask likely primary participation of those respondents.

[...]

We can tell the Latino Decisions poll's screen let in too many voters in a few ways. First, in the Florida subset, 26 percent of Democrats and 37 percent of independents say they will vote in the Republican primary, which seems high for a closed primary. Further, while 52 percent of Florida Latinos say they will vote in the Republican primary, Obama beats Romney overall by ten points (50/40), and Gingrich by 14 points (52/38). It simply doesn't make sense that an electorate where 52 percent are voting in the Republican primary, Obama exceeds majority support.

In the national survey, the same pattern holds.

There is another poll out that shows Romney ahead big time with Hispanics-- Times Union/Insider Advantage:

Times-Union/InsiderAdvantage Jan. 25 Florida poll (MoE +/-$%): Mitt Romney 40%, Newt Gingrich 32%, Ron Paul 9; Rick Santorum 8. The poll shows Romney leading Gingrich among every group, including 15 percentage points among women and 32 percentage points among Hispanics.

However, it's worth noting that some polling experts take issue with Insider Advantage. So, again, we may be looking at numbers that don't mean much.

To the extent they do, however, there may be a simple answer (or even two!).  First, as Insider Advantage's Matt Towery (a former Gingrich staffer!) notes to the Tampa Bay Times, "Gingrich does not have the television presence, and he had a tepid debate performance."

One of these things is more relevant than the other, in my mind, and that's the TV ad point. As I noted in my piece here, the pro-Romney forces spent a boatload of money on TV in Florida ahead of the shift in focus from South Carolina to the Sunshine State (the Newt forces spent what they had on South Carolina). In a big state like Florida, retail politics is a non-starter. TV is king. And Romney has run Spanish-language TV ads, too.

Second, however, Romney is probably just better known in a current sense, as a presidential candidate, to Hispanic voters than is Gingrich. He ran in 2008. He has been endorsed by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, and former Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, the super trifecta of big Republican names in the Cuban-American community in South Florida (all three, incidentally, are featured in the aforementioned Spanish-language ad).

This is all good stuff for Romney, and his team should be happy about it-- but not too happy about it.  

Romney has, as Ben Smith notes in his Politico column today, moved far to the right on immigration in the last two months. And that's saying something, considering he had already lurched far to the right when running back in 2008 (flip-flopping on comprehensive immigration reform, getting endorsed by Tom Tancredo):

The litany of complaints about Romney is long. Perhaps the sharpest is that he says he would veto the DREAM Act, a poll-tested corner of immigration reform that would legalize only the most virtuous of illegal immigrants: people who came as children and then enrolled in college or the military. 

[...]

Romney also repeatedly used immigration as a wedge on the campaign trail, jabbing Rick Perry over his relatively moderate stance on the issue — the exchange prompted Perry to call Romney and his allies “heartless” — and supporting harsh laws that would convince immigrants to “self-deport.”

Ben quotes Ana Navarro, a former adviser to McCain and Jeb Bush as saying, “Romney has done himself some real damage... Romney has now thrown Obama a lifesaver on the issue. It’s been stupid and unnecessary. He could have been more nuanced and left himself room to maneuver... Immigration is not most the important issue for Hispanics, but it definitely sets a tone."

Ana is right. Romney has not only positioned himself in a way that I suspect will sooner or later turn out to be a big problem with Hispanics (including a good chunk of Cuban-American Republican primary voters in Florida). He can ill afford to flip-flop (or in this case would it be a flip-flop-flip?) on yet another big issue, especially with Nasty Newt ready to pounce all over him.

For the record, Nasty Newt is doing just that. Here's what happened when Newt, who as previously noted has taken a softer line on immigration than Romney, was interviewed yesterday on Univision:

Ramos focused largely on immigration, asking Gingrich what he thought about the "self-deportation" idea Romney put forth in Monday's debate in Tampa. Gingrich laughed and replied, "Oh, come on," and asked Ramos a question.

"How close were you breaking out laughing out loud at this fantasy?" he said. Ramos smiled and posed his initial question again.

 "You have to live in a world of Swiss bank accounts and Cayman Island bank accounts...to have some fantasy this far from reality," Gingrich said. "For Romney to believe that somebody's grandmother is going to be so so cut off that she's going to self-deport, I mean, this is an Obama-level fantasy."

As for why one of his Spanish-language radio ads calls Romney "anti-immigrant," Gingrich said, "He certainly shows no concern for the humanity of the people that are here," saying Romney's proposal to "deport grandfathers and grandmothers" is "never gonna happen."

So are the Nasty Adelsons. NBC reported yesterday morning that the Newt SuperPAC, with coffers filled afresh by virtue of a $5 million check from Miriam Adelson, is going on the air in Florida with a $6 million ad buy whacking Romney.

Of course, that still doesn't match the pro-Romney forces, who according to the Tampa Bay Times, have spent/are spending (the wording is nebulous) a combined total of $14.4 million.

Is that enough to buy you support from a community whose standard-bearers are associated with "amnesty" legislation that Romney staunchly opposes and says he would veto and which is unlikely to look favorably on people that Tom Tancredo digs? Maybe.

But my guess is that Newt goes after Romney on issues of concern to the Cuban-American community tonight in the debate, and gets a boost from audience participation, which will probably result in him going harder and nastier against Romney than last time.

I also suspect that Rick Santorum, a big opponent of immigration reform himself, will attack Romney, possibly resulting in Romney's baser instincts (no pun intended) to tack right when hit for being too moderate, coming into play.

Jeb Bush has some advice for Republicans interested in winning over Hispanics, and both Romney and Newt would be well-advised to listen to, and heed it. Here's my dumbed-down summary: Focus on the attractiveness of America and the possibilities for entrepreneurship, focus on education, and take a more pro-immigrant line-- to quote Bush, "support the freer flow of human talent." Interestingly, on my read (and that of folks who focus extensively on the issue of Hispanics' policy priorities), this can all neatly be summarized as "focus on opportunity issues." Frankly, support for legislation like Texas' DREAM Act, which Romney attacked Perry over, constitutes perhaps the best and most direct way of conveying such a focus.

Obama has, of course, backed the federal DREAM Act (which is different) but put no real political capital behind passing immigration reform (hey, when Republicans are succeeding in alienating a voting bloc, why pay more than lip service to try to bring them onside?). Romney, I seriously doubt, will change his tune and adopt rhetoric and an approach closer to what Bush is arguing for. Newt is, I think, doing a far better job of reflecting the kinds of things Hispanic voters want to hear.

For my part, I certainly hope that he won't be the only one. I still consider it more likely than not that Romney wins the nomination.

But as it stands, he's positioning himself in a way that I believe will incline too many Hispanic voters to say "no, no puedes [ganar nuestros votos]," when Resurgent Republic's data suggests they've already said "no, no puedes" when it comes to Obama delivering on promises to the community.

* excerpted from today's Morning Score email.

UPDATE: Of further interest on the DREAM point, here's Resurgent Republic: "Over 2/3 Hispanic voters support allowing in-state tuition to children of illegal immigrants ." This validates my concerns about Romney and Hispanic voters (and therefore his electability more broadly).

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