Mitt Romney may be able to win over Latino voters, according to a Latino advocacy group that’s been dogging him for months, and Sen. Marco Rubio (R) could offer him a way to do it. But before Latinos will be ready to listen, the group says, Romney will need to publicly sever some of the few close ties he has to the conservative GOP base.
Romney and Rubio are slated to appear together in Pennsylvania Monday. Around the same time and in the same Pennsylvania town Romney and Rubio is hosting a town hall meeting with voters, a pro-DREAM Act advocacy group, DRM Capitol Group, is countering with a press conference urging Romney to distance himself from what immigration activists consider conservative boogeymen — key figures who helped engineer state crackdowns on illegal immigration, including Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R), former Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce (R) and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R).
The Romney campaign told TPM the joint appearance will focus on “jobs and the economy,” but the elephant in the room will be Rubio’s own alternate DREAM Act proposal, which could play a major role in Republican efforts to close the gap with the Latino electorate. Rubio’s plan, still in its early stages, would provide a permanent residency status for the children of illegal immigrants who attend college or serve honorably in the military. Democratic versions of the law would provide a fixed path to citizenship for those same children. Conservatives have rejected that as amnesty; most Latino advocates have rejected Rubio’s plan because they say it creates a “second-class citizenship” for children who have grown up as Americans.
DRM Capitol Group has been attacking Romney ever since he said he’d veto the original version of the DREAM Act that died in the 2010 Senate lameduck session. The group said that Rubio’s DREAM Act could offer Romney a way to shift to the center. But the group says there will be no fresh look at Romney until he rebukes people like Kobach, who have given Romney some of his only close connections to the conservative right, which is generally wary of him.
“Just because his approach is coming from a Republican doesn’t mean we’re closing the door on it. We are inviting the conversation to begin,” Cesar Vargas, a spokesperson for DRM, told TPM.
“Right now we’re being cautious. Let’s give him a chance,” Vargas said. “Our benchmark is if he can deliver the House. If he can have John Boehner on board in this, that means they’re serious.”
Romney recently called for a Republican version of the DREAM Act at a closed-door fundraiser. Kobach, whom the campaign calls an “informal adviser” on immigration issues, says he’s against what’s known of the Rubio plan so far.
Romney has to shed ties to Republicans like that before he can have a chance at pivoting, with Latinos, says Vargas.
“He’s definitely making a shift,” Vargas said of Romney. But if he doesn’t rebuke Kobach and the like, “that will demonstrate that he’s willing to side with individuals who have attacked individuals Latino mixed-status families. And that will determine who is our candidate for 2012.”