TAMPA, Fla. -- Ana Navarro is a plain-spoken consultant who specializes in working with the Latino community. She ran Sen. John McCain's troubled operation in 2008, which garnered only about 31 percent of the Latino vote, compared to the nearly 40 percent President George W. Bush, who was shrewd about his outreach, got in his 2004 reelection.
In an interview this morning, Navarro said that Mitt Romney's campaign was in much worse shape with Latinos than McCain was in '08-- a view that many other Republicans, even some inside the Romney campaign itself, worriedly admit.
"Whatever the Romney campaign is doing isn't visible to the naked eye," said Navarro. "They don't know the community -- and what they do know, they don't seem to like."
The campaign is only now hiring a Spanish-speaking director of Hispanic outreach. It has placed little advertising in Latino media, though that is expected to change as of Friday, when the campaign can start spending more money under federal rules.
In 2008, Navarro said, McCain faced two handicaps: a history of bruising, but ultimately unsuccessful efforts at immigration reform in Congress, and then-Sen. Barack Obama's aggressive campaigning for the vote.
This time, Navarro said, Romney should be able to benefit from the fact that immigration is not the number one issue in the Latino community -- the economy is. "Obama made a lot of promises that he hasn't kept," she said, "and people need to know that."
After the convention season, Romney will have only two months to make the case against Obama in the Hispanic community and then sell himself. She predicted that the campaign won't have the time or the inclination to do both.
"They're going to spend the time and money going after Obama" in an effort to reduce Democratic turnout.
"They are in a hole, and they're going to try to dig out with a lot of negative advertising."
Inside the Romney campaign, they are fully aware of the problem. Without a substantial improvement in the Latino numbers, the campaign will have a very hard time winning the swing states of Nevada, Colorado and Florida, and that it could be hurt in Ohio and North Carolina as well.
Jose Fuentes, a co-chairman of Romney's Hispanic leadership team, said last week that they are aiming for 38 percent of the Latino vote this year.