In one of a series of clips from a secretly recorded campaign fundraiser, Mitt Romney makes a joking reference to his family's complicated history in Mexico, guessing that if his father George had been "born of Mexican parents, I'd have a better shot at winning this."
The comments mark a rare moment of levity on immigration for Romney, and they're a somewhat unusual reference to his family's complicated history in Mexico. "I mean, I say that jokingly," he adds, "but it would be helpful to be Latino."
Romney spent much of the primary season broadcasting a harsh stance on immigration, famously suggesting that he'd make life so unbearable for those in the U.S. without papers that they would "self-deport." Then he moved gingerly to the center once he had clinched his party's nomination, mindful of Latinos' increasingly large slice of the electorate.
"My dad, as you probably know, was the governor of Michigan and was the head of a car company. But he was born in Mexico ... and uh, had he been born of uh, Mexican parents, I'd have a better shot at winning this," Romney says in the video. "But he was unfortunately born to Americans living in Mexico. He lived there for a number of years. I mean, I say that jokingly, but it would be helpful to be Latino."
Romney's line got laughs, perhaps because his audience was aware that he could indeed use all the help he can get with Latinos. President Barack Obama is walloping him by a nearly 40 percent margin in polls of the group.
Romney is not Mexican, but his ancestors were white Americans who moved to Mexico when the state of Utah banned polygamy. Romney's son, Craig, cut a Spanish-language radio ad in August making a point similar to the one that his father did at the fundraiser. "My grandfather George was born in Mexico," Craig noted, leaving out the reason why.
Romney addressed the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on Monday in an effort to blunt Obama's advantage among Latinos. In his considerably more serious remarks at that event, he claimed the president's policies have effectively sent Latinos into poverty, and that Obama has failed to "fix" immigration as he promised.
Efforts at improving Romney's standing among Latinos based on personal appeals to his Mexican family history will likely go only so far. Latino support for the president's reelection is based in part on a specific administration policy: Obama's decision to grant immunity from deportation for many young undocumented immigrants.