Last week, a Gallup poll asked Latinos to rank six national issues in terms of importance. For Hispanic voters, the top priorities were health care, unemployment, and economic growth (education was not a choice). Immigration ranked fifth.
The results should be worrisome to Mitt Romney, because he is at odds with Latino voters on all of these issues. The GOP candidate for President has done an abysmal job at connecting with Hispanics, and he may pay the price in the general election. So let’s review where Romney stands on the issues that matter most to our community, to see if he can do better.
Romney has denounced the Supreme Court ruling upholding the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Standing in front of the Capital on Thursday, he declared, “What the Court did not do on its last day in session I will do on my first day if elected President of the United States and that is I will act to repeal Obamacare.” He called the health care legislation “bad law” and “bad policy.” Yet although the American public is divided on the ACA, most Hispanics support the law. Consider that the National Council of La Raza reports that one out of every three uninsured people in the U.S. is Latino, and we are the least likely group to have employer-sponsored coverage.
Romney has not offered a health care plan of his own. His website contains no specifics about what he would do for the millions of Americans who cannot afford private health coverage. For Latinos, who suffer disproportionately from AIDS/HIV, asthma, diabetes, and obesity, Romney’s lack of a plan is unacceptable. How ironic that Romney, whose health care plan for Massachusetts served as a model for “Obamacare,” is now running as a candidate opposed to people accessing health care.
Given his successful background in the private sector, Romney should do well on the issues of jobs and economic growth. The problem is that he has not spelled out how he would turn our economy around, other than return to the same free-market, less regulatory policies that helped bring on the recession. He needs a more detailed, proactive economic message. The potential is there; Latino unemployment is currently 11 percent, as a Romney commercial points out, and Latino child poverty is at record levels.
On immigration, the Romney campaign is an epic fail. Romney is against any form of “amnesty,” as well as the original Dream Act. He has been widely mocked for his ”self-deportation” theory. Last week, when the Supreme Court struck down most of Arizona’s SB 1070, Romney expressed disappointment (He once called SB 1070 a “model for the nation). If driving Latinos to the Democratic Party is the goal, Romney’s immigration positions have achieved it.
On a purely personal level, Willard Romney (his real name) remains a void. November is five months away, and we know little about him besides the outline of his biography. His campaign has not presented the public with a more human picture of the candidate as a devoted husband and proud father. His Mormon religion is another area of mystery, one Romney has been reluctant to discuss. Yet faith and family would be two ways for Latinos to get to know the real Romney.
So far, Romney has alternately ignored, alienated, and antagonized Latino voters. His failure to “close the deal” with Hispanics is puzzling as he is a businessman who no doubt knows strategy. However, if he does not soon pivot on the issues that matter to Latinos, Romney’s campaign may someday be seen as a case study on how to turn off an entire segment of the electorate.
Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors.