Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Can Romney connect with Latino voters?

By Ana Navarro, CNN Contributor
updated 8:29 AM EDT, Mon September 17, 2012
Mitt Romney and Hector Barreto Jr., chairman of the Latino Coalition, greet guests at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington in May.
Mitt Romney and Hector Barreto Jr., chairman of the Latino Coalition, greet guests at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington in May.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ana Navarro: Romney is furiously wooing Latino voters now. Some advice: Connect!
  • She says at events, he fails to acknowledge Latinos' concerns, but he must for support
  • She says Romney seems allied with immigration hardliners such as Sheriff Joe Arpaio
  • Navarro: Obama's let down Latinos significantly; both candidates must convince them

Editor's note: Ana Navarro, Republican strategist and commentator, served as national Hispanic campaign chairwoman for John McCain in 2008 and national Hispanic co-chair for Jon Huntsman's 2012 campaign. Follow her on Twitter @ananavarro.

(CNN) -- A few weeks ago, I said Mitt Romney's Hispanic outreach was not visible to the naked eye. I try to call 'em as I see 'em, even when it means criticism of my own party.

Today, I see a Romney Hispanic blitz. Latino-Palooza is underway. Hispanic volunteers are holding events, making phone calls, knocking on doors. Romney began to spend significant resources on Spanish TV ads in swing states with a sizable Hispanic population. He's doing an interview with Telemundo, speaking to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and participating in a Univision Candidate Forum, all this week.

My unsolicited advice to Romney: CONNECT! For the love of God, Mitt, acknowledge you are in front of Latinos. It's OK to talk to different communities about specific issues that affect them more than others. If done correctly and with sincerity, it is called speaking to your audience. If it strikes an inauthentic note, it's pandering.

Ana Navarro
Ana Navarro

Earlier this year, Romney spoke to the Latino Coalition. He mentioned "Latino" twice, once while thanking his hosts. Recently, he spoke at an event in Miami, Florida. You may have thought it was taking place in Miami, Ohio. He made no comments specifically targeted to the thousands of Hispanics braving the heat and humidity to hear him. Romney never mentioned foreign policy toward Latin America, not even Cuba. How someone fails to do that in the heart of Cuban-American Miami is puzzling.

Barack Obama, for his part, has been working the Latino community. In the past six months, it's reached a fever pitch. The Democrat National Convention was a parade of Latinos: elected officials, celebrities, singers, students and even an undocumented young woman, representing the Dreamer students who would qualify for legal status under a potential Dream Act.

Obama knows winning the Latino vote is key. Just as crucial as the margin of victory is the level of turnout. Obama's task is to maintain his current numbers of 65% to 68% support and increase voter enthusiasm. Romney must chip away at Obama's lead. He will have a difficult time winning the election with his Hispanic poll numbers hovering around 30%.

Hispanic events provide an opportunity to ask tough questions. Romney and Obama have some explaining to do.

Like many other voters, Hispanics want to hear more specifics from Romney and Obama. Whether its economic policy or foreign policy, they would like the candidates to get past lofty platitudes. Many Hispanics live in Florida, Nevada and Arizona, which have been disproportionately affected by the foreclosure crisis. They want to know how they are going to get out of houses that are underwater and mortgages that are overwhelming.

Hispanic unemployment has run significantly higher than the national average (now 8.1%) during the Obama administration. It is still high at 10.2%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. On education, Hispanic dropout rates continue to be higher than the national average. Last year, it was estimated by one study to be as high as 28%. These are real problems that require real solutions. We want to hear concrete steps towards opportunity.

Then there is immigration. Note to Romney: Take a deep breath. Close your eyes and jump! You must address this issue. Continuing to avoid it turns it into an albatross around your neck.

Romney needs to move beyond his positions during the primary. He promised to veto the Dream Act. He should then tell us if and how he plans to confront the predicament these young people face. Proposing to staple a green card to the diploma of foreign students graduating from U.S. universities does not cut it.

While he's at it, he should say what he plans to do about the administrative order issued by the Obama administration that provides Dreamers temporary status for two years. If he becomes president, will he revoke it or will he let the order stand for at least the initial two-year period? A simple yes or no will suffice.

There also needs to be a responsible plan to deal with securing our borders and enforcing our immigration laws but also providing a practical and humane solution for the 11 million undocumented people already here. Unless it's meant as a lame attempt at humor, "self-deportation" is not an adequate response.

Talking of self-deportation, there's a question as to whether Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state who advocates the concept and is credited as the architect of Arizona's controversial SB1070 law, is an adviser or a supporter to Romney. Which is it? Romney has not publicly embraced Dreamers, but he's had no difficulty embracing the guys who give us nightmares, such as Sheriff Joe Arpaio, U.S. Rep. Steve King of Iowa and Kobach. How should Hispanics feel about that and what role, if any, would any of them play in a Romney administration?

Obama has his share of explanations to give. Many Latinos have felt great economic pain during his administration. Some of us, who don't think we should give one inch to anti-democratic regimes in Latin American, did not like seeing Obama in a discussion of missile defense, tap then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on the knee and promise more flexibility in a second term. What does that mean vis-a-vis the likes of Fidel Castro or Hugo Chavez?

In 2008, Obama promised Hispanics he would pass comprehensive immigration reform. He had a majority in the House and Senate and a powerful mandate for his first two years, and he failed to so much as present a plan, much less push for its passage. Blaming Republicans for his broken promise is silly. He passed his other priorities, including health care reform and the stimulus package, with practically no Republican support.

Those first two years, where Obama showed will, he found a way. He chose not to make immigration a priority. Why should we believe him now?

How does he plan to pass any meaningful reform in his second term when 1) he will be a lame duck from day one; and 2) he will in all likelihood have a Republican-controlled House and very divided Senate? Obama has not been known to cultivate congressional allies, Democrat or Republicans. Passing controversial legislation will not be easy.

Four years ago, Obama chanted, "Si, se puede!" (Yes, we can!) He's grown older and grayer; so have we. He couldn't and didn't in his first term. He'd be well-served to acknowledge that and take some responsibility, instead of just laying the blame elsewhere.

Hispanics are disappointed in Obama and distrustful of Romney. Both of them have seven weeks to change that. The clock is ticking.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ana Navarro

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
updated 5:52 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
updated 5:21 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Sally Kohn says the Ferguson protests reflect broader patterns of racial injustice across the country, from chronic police violence and abuse against black men to the persistent economic and social exclusion of communities of color.
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
updated 9:10 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the left mistrusts Clinton but there are ways she can win support from liberals in 2016
updated 1:38 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
updated 1:34 PM EDT, Sat August 16, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the way cops, media, politicians and protesters have behaved since Michael Brown's shooting shows not all the right people have learned the right lessons
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Sun August 17, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says the American military advisers in Iraq are sizing up what needs to be done and recommending accordingly
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Marc Lamont Hill says the President's comments on the Michael Brown shooting ignored its racial implications
updated 5:46 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Joe Stork says the catastrophe in northern Iraq continues, even though many religious minorities have fled to safety: ISIS forces -- intent on purging them -- still control the area where they lived
updated 6:26 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Tim Lynch says Pentagon's policy of doling out military weapons to police forces is misguided and dangerous.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
S.E. Cupp says millennials want big ideas and rapid change; she talks to one of their number who serves in Congress
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Dorothy Brown says the power structure is dominated by whites in a town that is 68% black. Elected officials who sat by silently as chaos erupted after Michael Brown shooting should be voted out of office
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Bill Schmitz says the media and other adults should never explain suicide as a means of escaping pain. Robin Williams' tragic death offers a chance to educate about prevention
updated 11:05 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Nafees Syed says President Obama should renew the quest to eliminate bias in the criminal justice system
updated 4:24 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Eric Liu says what's unfolded in the Missouri town is a shocking violation of American constitutional rights and should be a wake-up call to all
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Neal Gabler says Lauren Bacall, a talent in her own right, will be defined by her marriage with the great actor Humphrey Bogart
updated 6:56 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Bob Butler says the arrest of two journalists covering the Ferguson story is alarming
updated 4:35 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Mark O'Mara says we all need to work together to make sure the tension between police and African-Americans doesn't result in more tragedies
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
updated 7:08 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Michael Friedman says depression does not discriminate, cannot be bargained with and shows no mercy.
updated 11:25 AM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must not surrender to apathy about the injustice faced by African Americans
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT