Balloons fall as Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and Republican vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan’s families take the stage at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Republican convention report card: How did GOP do with Latinos?

So now that the balloons came down on the convention stage in Tampa and Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan were greeted with cheers as the Republican 2012 ticket, how did the GOP do in advancing their message to Latino voters? The Romney campaign was going into the convention with a huge deficit; Latinos have consistently stated their preferences for President Obama by an almost two to one margin in the polls over the last few months.

Today, Latino Republican strategists say their message to Latinos over the last few days came through with flying colors.

“I am ecstatic, I am so happy,” says Bertica Cabrera Morris, from the Juntos Con Romney campaign and a former campaign manager for Senator Marco Rubio out of central Florida. “We have been at the table for a long time, but people don’t know that, and these last few nights showed the work we have been doing for years,” Cabrera Morris says. She credits the speeches of Governor Susana Martinez and Senator Marco Rubio, as well as the speeches by Puerto Rican Governor Luis and Luce Vela Fortuño, and Texas Senate candidate Ted Cruz, as giving Latinos a sense of their involvement in the party as well as the party’s philosophy.

Both Gov. Susana Martinez and Marco Rubio gave rousing speeches (though the networks did not take Martinez’ speech) which emphasized their Latino roots and their families’ immigrant experiences, which were praised by most observers to be very effective in showing a more inclusive GOP “tent.”

Cabrera Morris thinks these speeches will help put a face to their outreach to Latinos in the next two months, which focuses on what the Republicans think are Obama’s failed policies. “I think Hispanics have been hurt for the past three years economically more than any other group, and there have been more deportations of Hispanics in the past three years than any time in history, so our message is we need change,” says Cabrera Morris.

Alexandra Franceschi, a Latina spokesperson for the Republican National Committee, feels the part “showed the diversity of the Republican party,” she says, “and we are all feeling the excitement after the convention, from Florida to the West Coast.”

Sylvia Manzano, a political scientist at Latino Decisions, which does extensive polling on Hispanic registered voters, agrees the GOP achieved certain goals in their outreach the last few days. “They definitely made strategic efforts to soften the edges; I don’t think anyone would dispute that,” she says.

Manzano argues it was not just who they had in primetime — compelling speakers such as Rubio and especially Susana Martinez, now mentioned by many as one of the Latina GOP stars to watch – – but who they did not have in primetime that was important. “They had no Jan Brewer, no Kris Kobach, no Tea Party mentions on primetime, and most of the speakers included a theme of a personal immigrant story or narrative,” Manzano says.

This is not surprising, she explains, since most parties make an attempt to soften the extremes during conventions to appeal to more centrist voters.

Manzano says, though, that the Republican party still has to wrestle with a narrative that is at times inconsistent with the everyday realities of Latino voters.

“The party stresses a ‘heartwarming narrative’ about small towns and the emphasis on starting own’s small business, but that’s not the reality for most Latinos who work for an employer, whether it be as a laborer, or in a company, or even in the government sector,”  she says. Manzano also adds there is a disconnect between bashing “big government” and claiming the value of “hands off” free enterprise, which might appeal to libertarians and conservatives but might not make sense to many Latino voters.

“You can’t promise to defend Medicare and mention the achievements of government programs such as NASA, and then say we need small government,” she explains. Polls have shown the majority of Latinos support the role of government services as a positive and not a negative.

Political scientist Victoria Defrancesco Soto argues the Republican convention gets kudos on style, but to attract more Latino voters, it needs to go heavier on the substance.

“Stylistically, they presented the immigrant story through Latino faces and that was very effective, but what about more messages on immigration?” says Defrancesco Soto. She says even if they did not want to tackle immigration reform, the GOP could have used primetime space to reach Latino small business owners on ways to increase business and trade in Latin America, for example, or give examples of other measures to reach out to immigrant families and employees.

“It was also a very generalized message on the economy,” says Defrancesco Soto. In last night’s speech, Romney mentioned the need to have a country which “will take care of the poor and the sick,” but neither Romney’s or Ryan’s speeches included an alternative to Obamacare, which they vowed to eliminate if elected, even though Latinos have a high rate of uninsurance.

“They are going to have to be more specific, and put more time and work into their message as they to try reach Latino voters,” says Defrancesco.

In terms of the “optics”of Republican outreach and Latinos, there were a few awkward moments at the convention. Shouts of “USA, USA!” by Ron Paul delegates when Puerto Rican committee chairwoman Zoraida Fonalledas addressed the convention, making her visibly uncomfortable, were widely reported, though Fonalledas and the RNC say this was due to the dissatisfaction over the Ron Paul delegate count and not aimed at her.

Ann Romney’s outreach to Latinos was closely scrutinized over her  choice of words (“you people know how to party” when talking about Puerto Rico) though she and her son Craig,who speak fluent Spanish, were praised for repeatedly talking of the importance of the Latino vote and making themselves available to Spanish-language and Latino media. Latino Republican women said Ann Romney was effective in emphasizing the family side of Romney and of speaking about mothers’ concerns about the economy and other issues.

In sum, Latino Republican strategists say they are ready to tackle their grassroots efforts in the different states as the countdown begins toward November 6th.

“We’ll use the enthusiasm from the convention to spread our message that the economy and the middle class will be better under Romney” says RNC spokesperson Franceschi. Next week, it will be the Democrats’ turn to get the national spotlight at their convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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