Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval was one of the featured speakers at the Republican National Convention’s first night. (Photo/Getty Images )

RNC: Latinos take center stage, and leave immigration issues behind

Tampa, Florida – It was the first night to make an impression at the convention. Republican leaders, including a number of Latinos, used their national platform to make their case for a Romney presidency with less government and regulation, while at the same time reassuring Hispanics they are indeed welcome in the party.

President Obama’s campaign is going to tell Hispanics that we’re not welcome here…” said Texas Tea Party Republican candidate Ted Cruz,who is running for U.S. Senate. Instead, said Cruz, what is “tragic” is Hispanics’ high unemployment and regulations on their small businesses. Using religious imagery about a Great Awakening brought by the Tea Party and America as a “city on a hill,” the Cuban-American candidate argued the need to make a “stark choice” and advocate for the government to get out of the way.

“Fifty-five years ago, when my dad was a penniless immigrant, thank God some well-meaning bureaucrat didn’t put his arm around him and say let me take care of you,” said Cruz. “Let me give you a government check and make you dependent on government. And by the way, don’t bother learning English.  That would have been the most destructive thing anyone could have done,” said Cruz.

Brian Sandoval, governor of Nevada, described himself as a “child of working class Hispanics.” In his state of Nevada, he said government has not been an answer, but a problem. Sandoval also talked about immigration — but only in a very specific way.

“One of the greatest duties I performed was to administer the oath of citizenship to new Americans — immigrants who embody our dream of opportunity and prosperity.”  Sandoval, like other Latinos in the first night’s speeches, did not touch on issues of immigration reform or undocumented immigrants.

The issue might not have been part of tonight’s speeches, but it is a part of the newly-approved Republican party platform. The GOP platform does not support amnesty of any kind, including the Dream Act. The party also adopted making English the official language of the U.S., and outlaws abortion in all cases. These harsher positions contrast with the less harsh tone taken by many of the speakers in the convention’s first night.

“The aesthetic presented by the party tonight contradicts the rhetoric and language in the platform,” says political scientist and NBC Latino contributor Stephen Nuno.

Luce Vela Fortuño, wife of Republican Puerto Rican Governor Luis Fortuño, had quite the moment in the spotlight  as she warmly introduced Mitt Romney’s wife, Ann Romney. Vela Fortuño introduced  herself as a mother, practicing attorney, proud Latina and “die-hard Republican.”  Mrs. Romney, making a very marked appeal to women, did not touch on the abortion issue, which has been a source of controversy in the campaign for the last few weeks. Instead, she said women were the “best of America” and later said, “You can trust Mitt — give him that chance.”

On the convention floor, Michael Saragosa, a delegate from Placerville, Calif. who owns his own business, was hoping the convention would bring more momentum to the campaign aimed at Hispanics.

“The reality is we can always do better with Latinos, and we have to, but we are doing a lot more than we have,” says Saragosa.  “There are sophisticated programs targeting Latino voters in all of the swing states that we have to win.” Saragosa says the goal is to get 40 percent of the Latino vote.

At the convention, Hispanic Republicans are pulling no punches against President Obama. “His administration is putting us out of business, it is our turn to put them out of office,” said Phil Archuleta, a small business owner who was introduced by Nevada governor Brian Sandoval.

In the meantime, Democrats have come out swinging on the convention’s first day. “You can’t just trot out a brown face or a Spanish surname and expect people are going to vote for your party or your candidate,” said Democratic National Chair Antonio Villaraigosa, who had called the newly-voted-on platform “draconian.”

Other prominent Latino Republicans will speak tonight and tomorrow night in support of Romney.

“It’s going to be tough, and it’s going to be close – but we think we’ll get the message through,” says California delegate Michael Saragosa.

Speaking to Brian Williams at the convention last night, Senator Marco Rubio said the voters have a choice of two distinct parties, “and this is the kickoff.”

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