WASHINGTON -- Calling the Hispanic vote "in play" for Republicans this November, former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said on Sunday that parts of an alternative DREAM Act proposed by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) are "clearly attractive."
Barbour, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee and now an adviser for the Karl Rove-backed super PAC American Crossroads, appeared to throw his weight behind Rubio's plan as a way to attract a demographic that Republicans lost badly in 2008.
Rubio's proposal, which has not yet been drafted, would reportedly permit undocumented young people whose parents had brought them to the United States to remain in the country if they kept a clean criminal record and joined the military or attended college. In making his proposal, Rubio, a leading contender for the GOP's vice presidential nomination, may provide some cover for Mitt Romney, the party's presumptive presidential nominee. Romney has called for a Republican version of the Democrat-backed DREAM Act that does not include the path toward citizenship provided in the original.
This past Monday, Romney said that Rubio's proposal had "many features to commend it," but did not go so far as to endorse it. At a press conference later in the week, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) doubted that Rubio's proposal, even without an "amnesty" provision, could pass the "very hostile political environment" in the House of Representatives.
Speaking Sunday on CBS's "Face the Nation," Barbour recognized the trouble Republicans have had with Hispanic voters, who make up 11 percent of the electorate, due to the GOP's support for harsh immigration laws. Arizona's prototype law, with its "attrition through enforcement" slant -- a strategy favored as well by Romney -- is currently facing a constitutional challenge before the U.S. Supreme Court. Still, Barbour told CBS that "Hispanic votes are in play here because of the economy."
"Unemployment among Hispanics is higher than among others in the United States, especially among young Latinos," he said. "They are being hurt worse by the policies of this administration. and don't think that that doesn't enter heavily into their and their families' thinking."
As for Rubio's plan, "some of the concepts are clearly attractive," Barbour said. "The fact that people come and serve in our military certainly ought to give them some status in the United States -- whether it's if they have the right to stay and to work as long as they pay taxes, as long as they don't break the law."
Barbour then suggested a willingness to go beyond Rubio and Romney, saying that "maybe there should be a different path to citizenship."