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Romney may not be 'still deciding' on immigration, but the Latino problem remains

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, left, with Univision's Jorge Ramos in a
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, left, with Univision's Jorge Ramos in a "Meet the Candidate" forum in Miami, January 25, 2012
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images News

In the day since it was uttered, news reports have alternately called a Republican National Committee staffer's remark to reporters yesterday about Mitt Romney "still deciding what his position on immigration is,” a flub, a gaffe, a snag, and a disaster.

The latter may be an overstatement, but it still wasn't pretty. Bettina Inclán, who earlier this year became the RNC's Hispanic Outreach Director, told reporters at a Washington, D.C. press event when asked a question about Romney and immigration that "I think, as a candidate, to my understanding, that he’s still deciding what his position on immigration is."

An RNC spokeswoman quickly stepped in to correct her, and Inclán later tweeted that she "misspoke," saying GOP presidential candidate Romney's position is clear.

Inclán's gaffe, seized upon by reporters and by the Obama administration, was read by some as a slip revealing Romney's back-and-forth on immigration as he's tried to appeal to both immigration hardliners and Latino voters. But voices on both sides have argued that his position has been clear enough, whether one likes it or not.

Here's what Washington Post editorial writer Lee Hockstader wrote today:

In fact, Romney’s position on immigration reform is well-delineated: he’s against it. He wants illegal immigrants to “self-deport,” which is a polite way of declaring open season on them in state legislatures so that they’ll leave the country “voluntarily.” He opposes the DREAM Act, which would set a path to legalization for undocumented immigrants, brought here as children by their parents, if they attend college or serve in the military. And he holds up Arizona’s show-me-your-papers immigration law as a national model.

The bigger issue highlighted by the snag-flub-gaffe-disaster is that with six months to November, the Romney campaign and the GOP in general still have a long and difficult way to go in their quest to win much-needed Latino voters. And yesterday's incident didn't help matters.

Liz Peek wrote an optimistic piece yesterday for Fox News in which she suggests that Romney really push the economic angle to make inroads with Latinos:

Americans rate jobs their number one priority, and Latinos are no exception. For Hispanics, education comes next. Immigration – the issue of contention between Romney and Latinos -- ranks only sixth, after education, health care, taxes and the federal budget deficit.

Romney can chip away at Obama’s formidable Hispanic following by focusing on jobs.

Others say it's wishful thinking. As Hockstader wrote in the Post:
It doesn’t take a soothsayer to see that Republicans are going to lose the Hispanic vote. The only mystery is by how much — and that’s a key question.

In the Los Angeles Times, Paul West floated this much-discussed possible way out:
A possible escape hatch for Romney in the general election would be to put Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a Cuban American, on the ticket. Rubio is currently crafting an alternative to the Dream Act that Romney has yet to endorse or oppose.

But it's an idea that receives a resounding "meh" from most Latinos, writes Erika Bolstad in the Miami Herald politics blog:
Rising Republican star though he may be, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio'snational appeal may be tepid among the Hispanic voters both parties are so desperately courting this election year.

To win the presidential election, Republicans would like to repeat the success of former President George W. Bush, who garnered 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004. Democrats will need to capture a larger share by at least matching the 67 percent President Obama received in 2008.

In a year when the economy and unemployment dominate the national debate, it’s unlikely that merely having a Latino as a vice-presidential running mate is going to be enough to sway most of the country’s 12 million registered Hispanic voters, say political experts on the Hispanic vote.

Ditto on that from the Houston Chronicle, which reported poll results saying much the same.
The economy message isn't lost on Inclán, who after backtracking on her earlier comment tweeted: "Why don't we talk about the real issue at hand, Obama's policies have failed the Hispanic community" with a link to a list topped by unemployment.