The Republican Party recently announced it has to do a better job of reaching out to Latino voters. (Photo/AP Images )

Despite mixed signals on immigration, Republican leaders vow to appeal to Latinos

Tampa, Fla. – The topic of immigration swiftly dominated the first press conference addressed to Hispanic journalists.  The press conference opened with a new ad, in Spanish, from Governor Mitt Romney’s son, Craig. In very good Spanish, Craig Romney says his father “really values [that] we are a nation of immigrants – my grandfather was born in Mexico,” and says the Republican presidential hopeful shares the values of dedication, sacrifice and work which characterize immigrants.

From the start, the questions dominating the press conference focused on the difference between the inclusive language in the Romney ad versus the language proposed in the GOP platform, which states that the goal is for undocumented immigrants to voluntarily leave – in other words, “self-deport.”

And in an exclusive interview with Telemundo’s Angie Sandoval, Texas Tea Party senatorial candidate Ted Cruz said he would expect that if Romney were elected, he would rescind President Obama‘s deferred deportation for Dreamers.  Ted Cruz will speak tomorrow night.

When asked about these “mixed messages” on immigration, New Hampshire Governor John Sununu, speaking in both Spanish and English, said what some in the GOP are saying about immigration “does not have any value.”  He added that Romney, if elected, would sit with Senators like Marco Rubio, who proposed Dream Act-type of legislation. Republican Texas congressman Francisco “Quico” Canseco, who was also at the press conference,  said, “we need to move away from self-deportation.”

Republican National Committee advisor Sharon Castillo went a step further, turning the tables on the Obama administration. “The ones with the image and rhetoric problem on immigration are the Democrats,” says Castillo. “Obama had a Democratic Congress in his first few years and he did not deliver on immigration reform — he did not even try.”

Florida Senator Marco Rubio also turned the tables on the GOP image and rhetoric issue, saying in the show “Fox and Friends” that it is the Obama campaign who has waged a “nasty and ugly” political campaign against Romney and the GOP.

As Latino Republicans start congregating in Tampa today, they hope the next few days of speeches and outreach can make an impact on an electorate which has consistently continued to support Obama. The first weekly tracking poll of Latino registered voters released today by Latino Decisions and impreMedia finds that 65 percent would vote to re-elect President Barack Obama, and 26 percent would prefer to vote for Mitt Romney.

Florida Republican legislator Anitere Flores says her hope is that in the next few days, “Latinos can open their eyes and their ears to our core message of economic empowerment and opportunity, even though so much of the coverage is ‘he said, she said’ issues.”

Zoraida Fonalledas, the Republican Party committeewoman in Puerto Rico and the chair of the RNC Permanent Organization Committee (who has a speaking role in the convention to announce the RNC interim leadership), says the GOP has been expanding leadership roles among Republican Hispanics, and she thinks Latinos are  increasingly open to the Republican message. Here in Florida, Fonalledas says there are 800,00 Puerto Rican voters in what is called the I-4 corridor, and her party has an extensive grassroots effort to attract new voters.

For now, it’s full steam ahead as the next few nights are a chance for Latino Republican leaders to speak at the convention and convey a message of inclusion and opportunity.

“Unemployment among Latinos is over 10 percent,” says Florida congressman Mario Diaz-Balart.  “We Hispanics want the same things as anyone else; we’re American,” he adds. “It’s simple – if we want to become a mediocre country, we don’t have to do any changes. If we want lower taxes and a better cost of living, we should support Mitt Romney.”

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