If Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney hopes to improve on his dismal showing among Hispanic voters, he will need some serious political sensitivity training. Romney will have to make a stronger case that he can deliver on his pledge to jumpstart the economy, create jobs and improve educational opportunities, according to the top Hispanic official of the Bush administration.
Alberto Gonzales, the former attorney general under President George W. Bush and now an attorney in Nashville, said last week that many Hispanic voters still haven’t focused on the presidential campaign, despite the speculation that Romney might pick Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a popular Cuban-American, as his vice presidential running mate. He said most Latinos are far less concerned about the presidential race at this point than about finding or hanging on to jobs, paying the mortgage, putting food on the table for their families and making sure their children have a good education.
But as the November election approaches, he said, “I think people will focus more on, ‘Am I really better off than I was four years ago?’ And I think they’re going to look at someone like Gov. Romney who has important experience in the business sector.”
“The level of Hispanic support for President Obama,” added Gonzales, “is going to drop as people look at some of his social policies. Obama’s support for gay marriage, for example, is very troubling.”
Nonetheless, Obama appears light years ahead of Romney among Latino voters in the polls, and there would have to be a sea change in his positions on issues ranging from immigration reform to social spending before he can hope to cut into the president’s support.
According to the Pew Hispanic Center, Latinos voted for President Obama by a margin of more than two to one (67 percent to 31 percent) over Republican John McCain in the 2008 presidential election. And in two recent polls, the president has strong support from the Hispanic community, with more than a 50-point margin over Romney, according to Politico. The latest Investor’s Business Daily/Christian Science Monitor/TIPP poll shows Obama leading Romney among Hispanic voters by a 68-point margin, beating him 80 percent to 12 percent. A second PPP poll, from the liberal blog Daily Kos and the SEIU union, shows Obama beating Romney 72 percent to 22 percent — a 50-point margin.
This is why some Romney supporters believe he needs Rubio on the ticket to appeal to Hispanics in Florida and key western and southwestern states. “This is obviously going to be a very personal choice for Mitt Romney,” said Gonzales, who stressed that Romney or members of his team have not consulted him on the matter.
Gonzales’s remarks come as the unemployment rate nationally for Hispanics rose to 11 percent last month. That’s almost three points higher than the national average of 8.2 percent, according to new numbers released on Friday from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. Since the last report, the Hispanic unemployment rate has jumped from 10.3 percent to 11.0 percent. Overall, the American economy added 69,000 jobs in May, far below the expectations of most economists and analysts, who had expected over 150,000 new jobs.
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Gonzales, speaking in a phone interview, said that policies and issues matter much more with the Hispanic constituency, not the choice of number two. “I hope Governor Romney will look at three things when choosing a running mate,” he said. “One, can this be person be president on day one? Second, can this person help him govern? Normally the vice president is the last person in the Oval Office who has the president’s ear, especially when making big decisions. So you want that person to have wisdom – and wisdom only comes from experience. Only after those two criteria are satisfied do you then look at choosing someone who might help you win an important state or constituency.”
At the same time, Gonzales acknowledged that winning over “the quote-unquote Hispanic vote won’t be easy.” The group is much more diverse and disparate than people tend to think from a comfortable distance of 30,000 feet. “Hispanics in the southwest are very different from Cubans in Florida, and those groups are entirely different from Puerto Ricans in New York,” said Gonzales.
“So there’s a challenge to both candidates here. What’s much more important in my view are policies and issues, mainly the economy and jobs, as well as education and then immigration as a distant third, rather than the choice of running mate. At the end of the day, that’s what going to get Romney the Hispanic vote – if he can advocate for what’s best for the Hispanic community.”