"With Romney's current level of support among Latinos, he loses," said Ana Navarro, who advised former GOP nominee John McCain on Hispanic issues. "He has no option but to keep trying to make up ground."
During the Republican primary — when Romney was courting a less diverse and more conservative slice of the electorate — he referred to Democratic legislation that would legalize kids who attend college or serve in the military as a "handout" and said he would veto it. More recently, Romney has said he would accept the military exception in the Dream Act and called for broader, bipartisan immigration reform.
The more moderate tone has been accompanied by a surge in Spanish-language advertising since the nominating convention one month ago allowed Romney to tap into general election funds. Still, Romney has been outmatched 2-to-1 by President Obama and his allies in 10 states with large Hispanic populations, according to a recent analysis by Kantar Media and the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and reported by Univision.
Democrats say Romney's efforts are too little too late. "What he may now be saying doesn't erase what he has been affirming for over a year on the campaign trail," said Freddy Balsera, an Obama adviser on Hispanic outreach. "That is why Hispanic voters don't feel they can trust him."
There is also disappointment with Obama, who failed to make good on his promise to pass sweeping immigration reform and has deported record numbers of illegal immigrants. The 10.2 percent unemployment rate in the Hispanic community is more than 2 percentage points higher than national average. "Immigration is an important issue in the Hispanic community but it is not the defining issue," a top Romney adviser toldNational Journal recently. "Hispanic voters care about the same things other voters care about — which is jobs and the economy."
A new Romney ad in Spanish released on Tuesday, like previous Spanish spots, steers clear of immigration policy and blames Obama for saddling future generations with a $16 trillion national debt. "The legacy to our children: a debt they don't deserve without the jobs to pay for it," the ad says.
That's a powerful case against a president running for reelection in the worst economy since World War II. YetRomney's slightly improved but persistent deficit with Hispanic voters in the polls indicates that his hardline stance against illegal immigration in the primaries made a lasting negative impression. Time is running short for Romney to improve his standing in the Hispanic community, especially if his new, more nuanced approach to illegal immigration is not backed up with paid advertising in the Spanish-language media.