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Latino Republicans Abandon Key 'Latino Issues' To Endorse Mitt Romney In Florida

Mitt Romney Latinos Florida

First Posted: 01/26/2012 12:00 pm Updated: 01/26/2012 1:18 pm

As GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney gears up for the Florida primary, he has garnered endorsements from a few of the state's key Hispanic politicians -- despite his draconian positions on emotionally charged issues for the Latino community, like the Dream Act and immigration reform.

None of the endorsements are more important, of course, than what The Miami Herald calls the "ultimate Cuban-American endorsement trifecta": Republican Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart and Lincoln Diaz-Balart, brothers, and the latter a former congressman. Last week, the trio gave up a little Latin love for former Massachusetts Gov. Romney, a candidate they snubbed in 2008, instead endorsing Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who advocated immigration reform.

Appearing in a new Spanish language radio ad called "Estoy," or "I Am," the trifecta threw its weight behind a candidate that rival Newt Gingrich has described as "anti-immigrant" and that critics are calling "two-faced" towards the Latino community.

In the radio endorsement, Lincoln Diaz-Balart says he believes Romney "has the greatest opportunity to win." On television, Ros-Lehtinen says Romney has a "vision to restore the country's national security," and Mario Diaz-Balart says Romney believes in "us."

The Cuban-American community makes up a sizable portion of Florida's population, and has traditionally held an outsized -- and conservative -- influence on the state's some 1.5 million Latino voters. On issues related to illegal immigration, however, Romney doesn't speak for most Latino voters. Although the three Cuban-American politicians have been advocates of comprehensive immigration reform and passing the Dream Act, Romney himself has taken a hard line in the opposite direction. Along with "being strong on enforcement," Romney has promised to veto the Dream Act, a law that would give legal status to some undocumented immigrants.

Support for the Dream Act reaches 91 percent among Latinos and "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," according to a recent Pew Hispanic Center report.

Ros-Lehtinen says she doesn't necessarily agree with Romney on issues that have become secondary for voters.

"Although I don't agree with Romney's position on the Dream Act, this election will hinge on the economy and Americans' abilities to find jobs," Ros-Lehtinen told The Huffington Post. "Immigration issues will always be important to certain groups but the downturn in our economy is of utmost concern."

Mario Diaz-Balart told The New York Times that immigration was "becoming a secondary issue."

"People don't want to talk about people who are here illegally when people who are here legally don't have jobs," he said.

Some skeptics, however, say Romney won the Cuban-American trio's endorsement by default. Although the same three politicians endorsed McCain in 2008, based largely on his immigration platform, there seems to be no obvious choice in the current field for conservative Latinos.

Kristian Ramos, a policy director at the NDN & New Policy Institute, a Washington D.C.-based think tank, believes Latino politicians in Florida have endorsed Romney in efforts to unite and stabilize a fractured party.

"Those three in particular have had a history of supporting measures like the Dream Act ... but everyone wants stability in the Republican party and they likely think Romney is the most likely to provide that," Ramos said to The Huffington Post.

Freshman Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, key Republican Florida politicians with high Latino pull, have proclaimed themselves neutral in the GOP primary races.

Ramos also suggested that the Diaz-Balart brothers and Ros-Lehtinen may be hedging their bets with early endorsements in hopes that Romney gets the nomination.

"The Republican party being what it is, minorities likely rise quickly, and it's likely they'd be rewarded by the party once everything falls into place," Ramos said. "I'm sure that's part of their calculations."

But sticking their necks out too far may have a price with the Latino community. DeeDee Garcia Blase, HuffPost blogger and founder of the Tequila Party, a Republican Latino party in Arizona, says the three politicians are betraying the Latino community.

"Diaz-Balart insults the intelligence of Latinos living outside of Florida," she wrote in a post for HuffPost LatinoVoices. "Cuban Republican politicians in Florida appear to be increasingly out of touch with the Mexican-Americans who account for a sizable chunk of the Latino population pie."

While nationally comprehensive immigration reform and the Dream Act are likely to hold sway with many Latino voters, they may resonate less with Florida's 450,000 Hispanic Republicans, due to the high number of Cubans whose communities are less affected by such issues.

Rick Sanchez, a former CNN anchor, wrote in a blog for HuffPost LatinoVoices, " As a Cuban-American who grew up in Miami, I can tell you that a candidate's position on the Dream Act doesn't matter one bit in Florida politics."

Statewide, Mexican-Americans make up only 9 percent of Latino eligible voters in Florida, while Cubans make up 32 percent and Puerto Ricans 28 percent, according to a recent Univision poll. In all, about 11 percent of the state's Republicans are Hispanic. Almost 60 percent of them are in South Florida, and many are Cuban-American.

While at first glance, the segment may seem small, political strategists consider Latino Republicans to be a swing voting group in the nation's largest swing state. Some say Romney's early efforts to capture the Latino vote in Florida are evidence that he's learned his mistakes.

Simon Rosenberg, the president and founder of the NDN & New Policy Institute, says that Romney is working hard for the Hispanic vote this year after ending his campaign in 2008 having won only 15 percent of the Latino vote in Florida. McCain won more than half the Latino vote and gained the endorsement of the Diaz-Balart brothers and Ros-Lehtinen.

"Romney's in much better shape than he was four years ago. He lost the Latino vote by forty points, essentially ending his campaign in 2008," Rosenberg told The Huffington Post.

"This year he's captured some key Cuban-American endorsements, and Newt Gingrich is a much weaker candidate than McCain," Rosenberg said. "Things are looking pretty good for Romney right now."

Sanchez, however, thinks Florida Latinos should unite on the issue of immigration with their Mexican-American and Southwestern counterparts.

"Regardless of whether Cubans see themselves as being different than Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Hondurans or other Hispanics, the fact is that the rest of the world -- the media, politicians, businesses -- tend to see us as one big homogeneous group," Sanchez wrote.

"And so whether we like it or not, these are our issues."

SLIDESHOW: Leading Latino Politicians In The U.S.

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  • Susana Martinez

    Susana Martinez was the first U.S. Latina governor when she was elected governor of New Mexico in 2010. She is a Republican and the first woman to be the state's governor. Martinez, of Mexican descent, was born and raised in El Paso, Texas. She was district attorney for the Third Judicial District in Doña Ana County in Southern New Mexico, a position she held for 14 years. Controversy has followed Martinez. First, it erupted when she claimed that her <a href="" target="_hplink">grandparents first came into the country illegally. </a> She later clarified her family's past stating that <a href="" target="_hplink">her grandparents followed common practices in coming to the U.S. from Mexico in the early 1900s. </a> The second controversy came with <a href="" target="_hplink">her proposal to revoke a New Mexico state law that allows undocumented immigrants to obtain driver's licenses.</a>

  • Marco Rubio

    Marco Rubio was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010 to represent Florida. He was born in Miami and is the son of Cuban immigrants. Rubio was accused of <a href="" target="_hplink">embellishing crucial details about his parents' emigration from Cuba. </a> News has been circulating of <a href="" target="_hplink">a possible Republican nomination for vice president</a> in the 2012 election. Rubio told the GOP to tone down its hard-edged stance on immigration. <a href="" target="_hplink">According to Fox News Latino,</a> Rubio said, "The Republican Party should not be labeled as the anti-illegal immigration party. Republicans need to be the pro-legal immigration party."

  • Brian Sandoval

    Brian Sandoval was appointed U.S. district judge for Nevada by President George W. Bush in October 2005, becoming the state's first Hispanic federal judge. Sandoval is an American citizen of Mexican descent. He is currently Nevada governor. Earlier this year, Sandoval said <a href="" target="_hplink">he was backing Texas Gov. Rick Perry's presidential bid</a>.

  • Ted Cruz

    Texas Republican Ted Cruz is the first Hispanic to hold the post of Solicitor General for the state of Texas. He won a runoff election against Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in July 2012, and is now the GOP candidate for the Senate seat vacated by Kay Bailey Hutchison.

  • Luis Gutierrez

    Luis Gutierrez, a Democrat, has served since 1993 as representative for Illinois's 4th Congressional District. Gutierrez was born in Chicago and his parents are from Puerto Rico. He has been at forefront of every single immigration reform and immigrant rights defense struggle since 1993, <a href="" target="_hplink">according to La Voz del Paseo Boricua. </a> Gutierrez has been outspoken against current deportation laws. In July, he and 10 other immigration reform supporters were arrested in front of the White House for protesting against the Obama administration's deportation of young people and families, <a href="" target="_hplink">according to HuffPost. </a> He was arrested in mid-1990s for protesting the U.S. Navy's bombing of Vieques, Puerto Rico, and in 2010 for protesting against the Obama administration's deportation record.

  • Luis Fortuño

    Luis Fortuño is the governor of Puerto Rico and president of the New Progressive Party, the political party seeking U.S. statehood for the island. In 2012, Fortuño has been an active campaigner for Mitt Romney, even being listed as a potential Vice President candidate on the GOP ticket.

  • Bill Richardson

    Bill Richardson served as governor of New Mexico from 2003 to 2010. He also served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and as energy secretary in the Clinton administration. Richardson was born in California to an American father and a Mexican mother. Even after ending his term in 2010, Richardson remains an active political figure. In September 2011, Richardson visited Cuba to negotiate the release of Alan Gross, imprisoned in Cuba since 2009 after bringing communications equipment into the island. Richardson came back emptyhanded, <a href="" target="_hplink">according to HuffPost. </a>

  • Alex Padilla

    Alex Padilla is a Democratic senator representing California. He is the first Latino and youngest-ever president of the League of California Cities, <a href="!" target="_hplink">according to PowerWall at MSNBC.</a> He is a Los Angeles native and son of Mexican immigrants. Padilla introduced a bill in the Senate that authorized $104 million in tax breaks to help "green" companies in California when buying equipment. The bill also aimed to add jobs.

  • Ken Salazar and John Salazar

    John and Ken Salazar, both Democrats, have identified themselves as Mexican-American brothers. Ken Salazar is the U.S. secretary of the interio. John Salazar was congressman for Colorado's 3rd Congressional District, serving from 2005 until 2011.

  • Gloria Molina

    Gloria Molina is a Los Angeles County supervisor. Molina was born in California to Mexican parents. She was elected to represent the First District in 1991 -- the first Latina to do so. She quickly developed a reputation as a fiscal guardian committed to achieving good government reforms, maintaining the county's public health care system, and addressing quality of life issues -- particularly for the 1 million residents in unincorporated areas, <a href="" target="_hplink">according to HuffPost.</a> After LA County jail abuse incidents, Molina made several recommendations including <a href="" target="_hplink">asking to install cameras in the jails, barring deputies from striking inmates' heads, and banning the heavy flashlights deputies carry that can be used as batons.</a>

  • Julian Castro

    Julian Castro is the mayor of San Antonio, Texas. First elected May 9, 2009, Castro won re-election in 2011 with nearly 82 percent of the vote. "Julián Castro is the son of Rosie Castro, a well-known '70s firebrand who was among the leaders of La Raza Unida, the radical movement in Texas that was dedicated to defending the civil rights of Mexican-Americans and promoting a strong "Chicano" identity", according to <em>The New York Times</em>. "Julin really stands out," said Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda, an associate professor of Chicano and global studies at UCLA,<a href="" target="_hplink"> to <em>The New York Times</em>.</a> "There are other talented young Hispanic politicians around, but few have his stature or national potential. He's from San Antonio, but he's very much admired in California. He's like Obama -- one of us, but someone who also comes out of a broader American experience."