ByÂ Gloria Goodale, Christian Science Monitor
Surely, the question from the anchor of a Spanish-language network toÂ Mitt RomneyÂ was at least partly tongue-in-cheek:
Considering that Mr. Romney’s father was born inMexico, would that allow the candidate toÂ claim a Mexican-American heritage and dub himself the firstÂ Hispanic president, asked Jorge Ramos ofUnivision TV.
Predictably, Romney laughed it off.
â€œI would love to be able to convince people of that, particularly in aÂ FloridaÂ primary,â€ where Cuban-American voters could play a decisive role, Romney said.Â â€œI think that might be disingenuous on my part.â€
But the question was an interesting one, not least because it was asked by a Hispanic news outlet. True,Â the elder Romney, whose parents were missionaries, was not a Mexican citizen and left Mexico at age 5. Romney the candidate doesn’t even speak Spanish.
His son does, however â€“ and fluently, having spent time inÂ ChileÂ as a Mormon missionary.Â He has even narrated Spanish-language ads for hisÂ father and addressed crowds by hisÂ dadâ€™s side on the campaign trail in Florida. And the Romney clan does have that connection to their patriarch’s birthplace in Chihuahua, Mexico.
So does it amount to anything at all for Romney and the Latino vote?
â€œAbsolutely,â€ says Charles Dunn, author of â€œThe Presidency in the 21stÂ Century.â€
If a candidate has a connection to another people and culture, he says, â€œhe should use it to the greatest effect,â€ and Romney’s background means he has a story to tell.
Americans love a story well told, he notes, â€œand this is the tale of his ownÂ fatherâ€™s beginning and his love for the Mexican people and their culture.â€
Other presidents have used family connections to their benefit, notably JohnÂ F. Kennedy though his wife. â€œHe made the effort to speak German, and his own wife, Jackie, spoke French, which was a great plus for him,â€ he says. â€œRomneyâ€™s story will play well in certain parts of the country.â€
But a worldly display can cut both ways. Just look at the recent swipe by theÂ Newt Gingrichcampaign at Romney for speaking French, says Jim Broussard, professor of political science atLebanon Valley CollegeÂ inÂ Annville, Pa.
Similarly, most analysts agree that the decision by John Huntsman Jr. to speak Mandarin during a debate did not help him, because as one blogger noted, it made him seem somehow â€œun-American.â€
Playing to Latinos could also be a problem, particularly forÂ Republicans, since it often leads to the issue of illegal immigration.Â In hard economic times, â€œimmigrants become a popular scapegoat,â€ portrayed as taking away scarce American jobs, saysÂ Catherine Wilson, a political scientist atVillanova UniversityÂ inÂ Philadelphia.
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