TAMPA, Fla.- Neither wind nor rain is stopping thousands of Republicans from gathering here in Tampa to officially nominate Governor Mitt Romney as the 2012 Republican presidential candidate. For Republican Latinos, this is a big moment. For months, the polls have consistently shown President Obama with a substantial lead among Latino voters. Republican Hispanic leaders think they have a chance to show the nation’s Latinos their party is a big tent – and Hispanics are not only welcome, but a part of it. The question is, will it work?
“We’re very excited about this convention,” says Juntos Con Romney co-chair Hector Barreto this morning, as organizers deal with scheduling changes brought by the storm Isaac. “We will have hundreds of Latinos leaders here, and we have an opportunity to showcase not only the difference between the Obama and Romney campaigns, but what we think is the best future for Latinos,” said Barreto.
Barreto says there is a big difference between this convention and the former GOP Republican convention in Minneapolis. “I believe there was one Latino event then,” says Barreto. “Now we have events every day, sometimes more than one,” he says, adding, “We are five times more visible than in the last convention.” Barreto says this shows the level of commitment the party has toward the Hispanic community.
A Latino delegate from Kentucky, primary care physician Dr. Ralph Alvarado, says he’s here in Tampa because he’s unhappy with the current economic situation and feels it can be better under Gov. Romney. Alvarado feels the chances his parents had when they came from Argentina and Costa Rica in the 1960s are no longer there. “The kids graduating from college today have no opportunities for jobs; they followed the American dream and yet they don’t have an opportunity – people are going to vote with their pocketbooks, for Latinos that is the main focus,” he says.
However, Republican Latino leaders and strategists admit one thing: Republicans have an “image” problem among many Latino voters.
“Most of us in the Republican party are center-right, but there are some very vocal extremists in our party,” says Carlos Gutierrez, also a co-chair for Juntos Con Romney.
Republican strategist and NBC Latino contributor Danny Vargas, who firmly believes in the Republican fiscal philosophy and is featured in a recent Romney ad, says, “I think the immigration issue was incredibly damaging to what had been an economically productive dialogue with the Latino community. The trend line was going in the right direction; it could have kept going,” Vargas adds.
Today on “Meet the Press,” former Florida Governor Jeb Bush said, on immigration, that his personal view is “we need to get beyond of where we are.” While he believes in border control, Gov. Bush says an immigration strategy based on economic growth is what most Americans want. He said he didn’t think making immigration a ‘wedge’ issue is not right for the country. Speaking about Latinos and immigration, Bush said, ”You can’t send a signal you’re really not wanted- it just doesn’t work.”
Florida Senator Marco Rubio, while also acknowledging in an interview on Tampa Bay Online the need to have “compassion for people who are here without documents,” said his party is making inroads among Latinos, especially in states such as Florida. Rubio himself will be the most prominent Latino leader at the convention. The 41-year-old Cuban-American Senator was chosen to introduce Gov. Romney the last night of the convention, giving Rubio a high-profile spot in the convention. A few years ago, a senator from Illinois by the name of Barack Obama spoke at the Democratic convention, giving him instant national exposure.
And on Tuesday, Puerto Rico’s First Lady, Lupe Vela Fortuno, wife of Gov. Luis Fortuno, will introduce Ann Romney. Other high-profile Hispanic leaders include New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez and Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval. Gov. Sandoval said in a recent Las Vegas Review Journal article that President Obama “has given up on the American dream” and is limiting job growth.
It is the economic message that Latino Republicans hope will resonate with Hispanics. Juntos Con Romney co-chair Carlos Gutierrez says the main message to Latinos is simple: “Romney will do a better job at creating jobs, and it is all about jobs and the economy.”
Republican strategist Danny Vargas advises Republicans to change their tone in matters of immigration and focus on a dialogue. “From a values perspective, we are a party of family, faith and opportunity,” says Vargas. “If we focus on these things, we can win the Latino vote.”