(NOVI, MI – FEBRUARY 28: Republican Presidential Candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney holds a gathering at Surburban Collection Showcase after winning both the Michigan and Arizona primaries February 28, 2012 in Novi, Michigan. Romney celebrated primary victories in Arizona and Michigan. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images))

Opinion: Mitt Romney passed the test

The Arizona primary was the first real test of Mitt Romney’s appeal to a Southwestern constituency. With a semi-closed primary where independents could participate, it was important that Romney could demonstrate going into Super Tuesday that he was diverse enough to garner votes in a state that is known for its conservative stance on immigration, yet could appeal to the undercurrent of libertarianism that is also prominent here in the Grand Canyon State.

As expected, few Latinos participated in the Arizona primary, with the exit polls showing that less than 10% of the voters were Latino. But their low profile in this election did not mean that Latino issues were not an important component of the election. As the perpetual front-runner throughout the primary, Mitt Romney has had to be all things to all voters.  Romney has had to be libertarian enough to appeal to those who are displeased with his record of support for his own style of Obamacare, and conservative enough to appeal to Southern-style cultural purism despite being Mormon. All this while coming from a liberal state like Massachusetts, where he was rarely required to confront the immigration issue and which demands that he make nuanced cultural appeals to garner support in a city as large and diverse as Boston.

In this sense, looking at the exit polls, Arizona was an outright success.  For instance in the statewide exit poll voters were asked whether or not abortion should be legal or illegal.  Romney got the plurality votes among both groups, with 50 percent of those who said abortion should be illegal voting for Romney and 52 percent of those who felt abortion should be legal voting for him as well.

When asked what the most important issue was, again, Romney got the plurality of votes among those who said the most important issue was the budget deficit, the economy and illegal immigration.  Under no issue asked by the exit poll did any of the other candidates come close.

Going into Arizona, it was questioned if Romney could sufficiently communicate an immigration policy that could not only cover his right flank, but also be sensitive to the realities of the Arizona economy that depends heavily on immigrant labor.  On this, Romney passed with flying colors.  When respondents were asked what the best policy towards illegal immigrants was, Romney beat out his opponents among all three solutions that the respondents were given a choice.  Among the 34 percent who desired an immigration policy that encouraged a pathway to citizenship, Romney got 53 percent of their vote.  Among those who thought the best policy towards illegal immigration was for them to stay as temporary workers, Romney received 50 percent of their votes.  And among those who agreed that illegal immigrants should be deported, Romney received 47 percent of their votes.  The closest candidate among those who desired a policy of deportation was Rick Santorum, with a distant 28 percent.

Mitt Romney has had the toughest time throughout the primary trying to maintain a broad appeal, yet the message from Arizona was that he could indeed be all things to all people. This was an important boost for his sluggish campaign as he goes into Super Tuesday, and if Arizona’s schizophrenic challenge was any indicator, this primary is all but over.

Opinion: Mitt Romney passed the test tumblr m05waxH2aE1r1767o politics NBC Latino News

Stephen A. Nuño, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics and International Affairs at Northern Arizona University. He is currently writing a book on Republican outreach into the Latino Community.

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