Mitt Romney's presidential campaign announced its first Spanish commercial on the same day that it proudly touted the endorsement by Kris Kobach, Kansas Secretary of State and the brains behind all of the anti immigrant state laws that are so odious to most Latinos.
It does seem like a contradiction: one action is meant to attract and respect Latino voters, the other one is certain to bring condemnation from many if not most of them. However, for political experts, including a Republican consultant, there seems to be a logical explanation: Romney strategists may be considering a path to victory that does not require him to pursue a significant percentage of the Latino vote, not even what George W.Bush earned in 2000 or 2004, which was over 30% or closer to 40%, depending who you ask.
"Romney's strategy has its risks, but the reality is that he will not be seeking the Latino vote in the same way George W. Bush did" said David Johnson, a Republican consultant and CEO of Strategic Vision in Atlanta, who was a consultant to the Bob Dole campaign in 1996.
According to Johnson, the reason is that Romney will have enough trouble proving to the conservative Republican base that he is "one of them", and in such a position, he can not afford the messaging and the effort to try to broaden the base. That is left for candidates considered strong conservatives like Ronald Reagan, who attracted conservative democrats to his coalition or to George W. Bush, who at the time he ran was a favorite of the Republican base and therefore could work on expanding the reach to get a larger share of the Latino vote than the typical presidential candidate had gotten in the 1990´s.
Romney will have to try to appeal to moderates though, and he will move to do that in the general election, Johnson said.
"I believe he´ll keep a very hard line on immigration in order not scare the conservative base," said Johnson. "But he will seek moderates by emphasizing that he favors legal immigration, which does not mean much because it is something that everyone favors. And that makes him look moderate."
The Republican potential nominee´s road to victory then, will most likely not include the states of Colorado, New Mexico or Nevada. Not even Arizona, which this year is considered in play and a possible win for the Democrats. These are states that by their demographic and according to all polls favor Obama. Romney will seek to talke states in the "rust belt" of the country like Michigan and Ohio, where many white blue collar voters supported the Democrat in 2008 amid a severe economic crisis.
Florida is the first test for the Romney campaign in a state with a large share of the Latino vote. His message to Latinos there is likely to concentrate on the economy. "What they are doing is to rely on the poor economic situation of Latinos and blame Obama and his policies", said David Shultz, a business and politics professor at Hamline University in St. Paul Minnesota. The Republican National Committee (RNC) has also unveiled a spanish language and Latino campaign that focuses on economic issues, unemployment and other topics and even mentions the lack of progress on immigration reform by President Obama. They´ve also been using Latino unemployment figures and pointing to the number being higher than general unemployment as proof that the President has failed Latinos. Of course, Latino unemployment figures are always higher than that of the general population.
"The Republican message is about jobs and economy," said RNC chairman Reince Priebus when he announced the strategy, a couple of weeks prior to the Florida primary, which will be held on January 31st. He also announced the appointment of Cuban American Bettina Inclan, as campaign director for the Republican party´s effort to reach Latinos.
Inclán was press secretary to the Steve Poizner failed California gubernatorial candidacy in 2010. Poizner´s campaign focused heavily on a tough message on immigration, which didn´t help him win the nomination. It also didn´t help Meg Whitman, who was the Republican candidate for governor that year, to win the governorship. Inclán also worked with Florida Governor´s Rick Scott campaign, who then promised to bring an Arizona-style law to Florida.
All this seems evidence that the Republicans strategy to pursue their share of the Latino vote in the 2012 general election will count on the disillusionment that many Latinos feel about President Obama´s lack of action on immigration reform -even though most of the Republican nominees don´t support it- and the limited economic gains of Latinos during Obama´s term in the White House but that Romney won´t make any special efforts to move to the center on immigration to convince alienated Latinos that he´s not part of the anti immigrant crowd.
Even a poll conducted by a group formed by Republican political brains, Resurgent Republic, points out that even as Latinos are disappointed with Obama, the GOP continues to have many challenges to reach this vote and that the only way they can win in the future is increasing their share of the Latino vote.