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Rick Santorum Surges In Iowa, But Latino Vote May Be Out Of Reach

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In the Republican primary's revolving door of anyone-but-Romney candidates, Pennsylvania underdog Rick Santorum has seen a late surge in the polls, finishing with a very strong second place in yesterday's Iowa caucuses. While Santorum emerges from Iowa as a leading candidate, it's unlikely that he would be able to win an important swing vote in 2012 election -- Latinos.

On Monday, New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote that Santorum is a "sensible candidate" that could pull ahead in the election with his Catholic, pro-family values and his son-of-an-immigrant narrative. While such factors would likely woo Hispanic voters, Santorum's hard line on illegal immigration may hurt his chances with the same demographic.

In a September Republican debate, Santorum called opponent Rick Perry "soft on illegal immigration" for supporting in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants and for refusing to build a border fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.

According to a recent Pew Hispanic Center report, "84% of Latinos favor granting in-state tuition to unauthorized immigrants" and 91 percent were in favor of the DREAM Act, legislation that if passed would permit young adults who were brought to the U.S. illegally when they were children to become legal residents if they go to college or serve in the military for two years.

The same report also concluded that, "when it comes to better border security and stronger enforcement of immigration laws, the general public is nearly three times as likely as Hispanics (29% versus 10%) to say this should be the priority for dealing with illegal immigration."

At nearly every mention of immigration, Santorum invokes the beauty of the "American melting pot" and his own identity as the son of an Italian immigrant. Simultaneously, Santorum is insistent that drastic measures be taken to strengthen border security and stays safely ambiguous on what should be done with the 11 million undocumented immigrants who are already here. He says, "we'll have that discussion [after]" the border is secured.

"And until we build that border, we should neither have storm troopers come in and throw people out of the country nor should we provide amnesty," Santorum said in a September debate.

One-in-four Hispanics say they personally know someone who has been detained or deported by the federal government in the past year, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

Then, there was the former senator's word fumble in a September debate, which also won't help his case with Latinos. When answering a question about how to attract Latino voters, Santorum accidentally referred to them as the "illegal vote" before quickly correcting himself, according to CNN's transcript of the debate.

“What Gov. Perry has done is he provided in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, maybe that was an attempt to attract illegal vote — I mean Latino — voters,” Santorum said.

Some maintain that the former Senator actually said "legal" instead of "illegal."

While Santorum says he'll attract Latino voters by appealing to the Catholic values of family and marriage, his hard line on another emotional issue may make him a hard sell in states with larger Latino populations than that of Iowa.

Can Iowa Predict The Latino Vote?

Latinos account for 16.3 percent of the U.S. population, but only 5 percent of Iowa's populace -- making the state an imperfect testing ground for Santorum's popularity with the important voting block. The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that Latinos represented about one tenth of eligible voters in 2010.

Many pollsters believe Latinos, the nation's fastest growing minority group, decided the 2008 election in favor of President Obama in key swing states like Florida. Obama won 67 percent of the Latino vote in 2008, while George W. Bush won nearly half of the Latino vote in 2004.

Despite the President's record-setting deportation numbers in 2011, Latinos still say that they favor Obama over Republican alternatives in the 2012 election, according to recent Pew Hispanic reports.

While Santorum saw success in Iowa with what David Brooks refers to as the "white working class" of the Republican party, he might soon be saying adios to his presidential hopes if he can't win over Latinos.

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