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Romney prepares to tackle his 'Latino problem': Three signs

Mitt Romney, March 2010
Mitt Romney, March 2010
Photo by Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images

Now that Rick Santorum has dropped out the race and Mitt Romney is fairly assured of the Republican presidential nomination, his campaign seems to be working double-time to woo Latino voters.

It's not going to be easy. Throughout his campaign so far, Romney has taken a hard line on immigration, alienating Latino voters on an issue that may not rank as high as the economy, but is one that Latinos tend to take personally. And while immigration has been a sore point for both Romney and President Obama, Latino voters still favor Obama by a wide margin.

But recent developments in the Romney camp suggest there will be a heavy focus on reaching Latino voters as November nears, starting with:

1) Romney distancing himself from Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state and activist attorney who has written many recent state anti-illegal immigration laws. From ABC News:

A few months ago, Romney said in a press release that he was happy to have Kobach "on the team," and was looking forward to working with him to combat illegal immigration. Kobach told  reporters that he was advising the governor on immigration issues.

But a Romney spokesperson  told Politico's Glenn Thrush on Tuesday that Kobach is a "supporter," not an adviser. Kobach told National Journal later Tuesday that his role hasn't changed and he's still an informal adviser, and blamed Democrats for making it appear as if his job had been modified.

2) The Romney campaign hiring Latino-friendly strategist Ed Gillespie. From The Hill:
Mitt Romney’s hiring of Republican strategist Ed Gillespie is being seen as a sign the campaign will heavily court Hispanic voters — perhaps at the expense of immigration hard-liners in the party.

Gillespie, a former head of the Republican National Committee, has long advocated an aggressive outreach to the Hispanic community. He helped found the Republican State Leadership Committee, a group that recruits and trains GOP candidates for office and has emphasized finding female and minority candidates. He also heads up Resurgent Republic, an organization focused on messaging to independents, including Hispanic swing voters.

3) Romney acknowledging that he has a Latino problem. From MSNBC:
Lost in the other statements Romney made at that Sunday fundraiser in Florida was his admission that he needs to move to the center to win over Latinos. "We have to get Hispanic voters to vote for our party," Romney said, observing that polls show Latinos breaking in huge percentages for President Obama "spells doom for us."

Romney even said the GOP should offer something like a “Republican DREAM Act” to help woo Latinos. But there’s a challenge here for Romney, and it’s the same one Meg Whitman faced in 2010: How do you move back to center on immigration after running so hard to the right during the primary?

Interesting question raised there: How do you move back to center? It's a problem that (speaking of a "Republican DREAM Act") has also dogged Florida's Sen. Marco Rubio, whose earlier hardline rhetoric on immigration isn't helping now that he's floating a stripped-down version of the Democratic-backed Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.

Which brings us back to other ways in which the Romney campaign may try to appeal to Latino voters, i.e. a Latino vice-presidential pick, who could well turn out to be Rubio. But that's for another post.