Believe it or not, Mitt Romney does have a campaign strategy available to him that includes Latinos, except it would look significantly different from the strategy emerging out of President Obama’s campaign.
While the President will be relying mostly on Latino star power with household names like Shakira, Marc Anthony and Eva Longoria, Mitt Romney will need to depend on Latino firepower with names like Marco Rubio, Susana Martinez and Brian Sandoval.
Both candidates have their own issues with Latinos. The good news for Mitt Romney is that, unlike President Obama, he has deported exactly zero Latino immigrants and has broken up the same number of American families where a family member was undocumented. Contrast that to our Deporter-in-Chief who has broken up countless American families and deported over a million Latino immigrants. That’s a fact.
I’m confused as to why this isn’t the mantra coming out of the Romney campaign rather than the disingenuous claim that the President failed to pass immigration reform, when the overwhelming reason it could not pass was because of the Republicans. Perhaps Romney hasn’t brought it up much because he favors such a policy. After all, he has said as much throughout the primary campaign.
Regardless, the President’s problem isn’t whether or not Latinos will vote for him, they will, but whether or not they will make it to the voting booth at all. And Mitt Romney’s problem is not that Latinos won’t vote for him, they won’t, but one way to look at the electoral calculus is whether or not Romney can convince enough Latinos to stay home on Election Day and then make up the difference with enough independent white and/or Latino voters.
So where do Latinos fit in this scenario for Mitt Romney? Well, we know that the country as a whole desires a humane approach to immigration and that they are more willing to support a policy of integrating Latinos into society rather than treating them like criminals. Here is where Latino firepower may be important.
Governors Martinez of New Mexico and Sandoval of Nevada, along with Senator Rubio of Florida can be the face of this more humane approach. Each of the three are also in important battle ground states that can give Romney the edge in a tight election and all three won their respective elections with strong support among whites. All three States also voted for Obama in 2008 and at least two of these States have the potential to swing back to the GOP side with the right conditions.
Putting on a friendlier Latino face may not sit well with hardcore conservatives, but then, who else are they going to vote for? Perhaps they will stay home, but the Supreme Court just upheld the holy grail of Republican angst in Obamacare. The Supreme Court may have just handed the Romney campaign the antagonism it needed to get the Tea Party folks riled up again as in 2010.
On the other hand, President Obama has to convince Latinos to come out and play. He may not have a stable of Latino statewide officials in important swing states, but his contingency of superstars will need to reaffirm the cultural understanding between the President and Latinos. This emotional connection is an important component of social representation, or the sense that the voter and the politician share common values and ideals.
Perhaps Latinos can forget the last three years and the superstars can focus Latinos’ attention on the President’s recent directive granting legal status to the so-called Dreamers. Perhaps the superstars can scare Latinos with the argument that Obama may be bad, but Romney would be worse.
That is a good argument, and the GOP has always been willing to play into that, but it may not be as effective when you have firepower like Martinez and Rubio softening the image of the GOP to attract independent voters. Can it work? Maybe.
Stephen A. Nuño, Ph.D., NBC Latino contributor and 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.