GOP Tries to Woo Hispanics

April 2, 2012


Congressional Republicans and Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign are working to fashion proposals that could make up ground with Hispanic voters, concerned rhetoric on immigration from many in the party is turning away the increasingly powerful constituency.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) is developing a scaled-back version of the Dream Act, which would allow people brought to the U.S. as children to gain legal status, but not citizenship, if they enroll in college or the military. Several Senate Republicans have signed on to bipartisan legislation aimed at broadening access to the legal immigrant visa system.

The Romney campaign is looking for new proposals that would show he backs legal immigration, trying to pivot from a primary campaign in which he has taken a tough line on assistance to those here illegally.

It’s unclear whether any of these initiatives will bear fruit, but there is an increasing sense among some in the party of the need to try.

This effort is taking on new importance as an increasing number of Republicans signal it is time to end the primary fight and begin positioning the party for the general election. How close it is to wrapping up the primary contest may become more clear Tuesday night, when Mr. Romney looks for victory in the battleground state of Wisconsin, as well as in Maryland and the District of Columbia.

Immigration policy is just one part of winning over Hispanic voters, who made up about 9% of voters in the 2008 presidential race and are important to both parties. Many Republicans, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), argue that if the party could get past the immigration issue, it would be the natural home for many more Latino voters, who are often socially conservative and value entrepreneurship.

Polls show the challenge. A Fox News survey in March of likely Latino voters found just 14% would support Mr. Romney against President Barack Obama. A Pew Hispanic Center poll conducted in November found that Mr. Romney would get 23%.

That is well short of the 31% of the Hispanic vote John McCain won in 2008, and the 40% George W. Bush won in 2004. Advisers to Mr. Romney say they believe it will be very difficult for him to win unless he gets a percentage of the Hispanic vote in the mid-to-high 30s.

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