Long before he caught heat for suggesting that half of taxpayers are moochers, Mitt Romney knew he was “in trouble” with a another segment of the electorate: Hispanics.
Wednesday evening in Miami-Dade, the Republican presidential candidate will have to deal with both issues — his comments about 47 percent of taxpayers and his Hispanic outreach — during a sit-down with Jorge Ramos, the star personality of Spanish-language TV powerhouse Univision. Romney then holds a “Juntos con Romney” rally later Wednesday evening.
Ramos is sure to ask Romney about the newly released hidden video that captured the Republican telling donors at a May fundraiser that 47 percent of taxpayers who pay no federal income taxes were hand-out seekers who will vote for President Obama.
Many of Obama’s voters are minority, with about 57 percent of Hispanics backing him, polls show. Statistics also indicate Hispanics are sending a message to Republicans by preferring to register as Democrats or no party at all instead of the GOP in Florida.
Romney hasn’t backed away from the comments, though he said they were “off the cuff” and “not elegantly stated.” He plans to refocus his message to center around the growth of government and entitlement programs under Obama.
“We have two very different views about America,” Romney told Neil Cavuto, a conservative FOX personality on Tuesday. “The president's view is one of a larger government. There's a tape that just came out today where the president is saying he likes redistribution. I disagree.”
Democrats have accused Romney of hypocrisy by noting he has advocated for two programs that redistribute wealth, Medicare and Social Security.
President Obama and his allies, meanwhile, have made government programs central to their pitch for Hispanic votes.
They’ve also made much of the fact that Romney stands by his call for illegal immigrants to leave the country. He supports Arizona-style immigration laws allowing local police to more easily enforce federal immigration laws. And he opposes the so-called DREAM Act that would give a path to citizenship for to students or military personnel.
Immigration isn’t a top concern for Hispanics — it’s the economy — but polls show they’re more sensitive to hard-line positions on immigration, which have become a centerpiece of today’s Republican Party.
The nation’s fastest-growing ethnic group, Hispanics have been flocking to the Democratic Party in the country’s biggest battle ground state, Florida. There are now slightly more active Hispanic voters registered as independents than Republicans. Hispanics also outnumber African-Americans on the voter rolls for the first time.
Overall, the number of Hispanic voters stands at more than 1.5 million — 14 percent of the 11.4 million active-voter rolls — an increase of 39 percent in Florida since 2006. In that time, Hispanics registering as Democrats have increased their numbers by 60 percent, Hispanic independents have grown 50 percent and Hispanic Republicans only 12 percent.
Numbers like that could make it tougher for Romney to carry Florida. Romney suggested as much in May during the caught-on-video fundraiser.
“We're having a much harder time with Hispanic voters,” Romney said. “And if the Hispanic voting bloc becomes as committed to the Democrats as the African-American voting bloc has in the past, why we're in trouble as a party and, I think, as a nation.”
Romney will probably have an easier time with the Hispanic vote in Florida than in other states, however.
Florida’s two largest Hispanic groups, Cubans and Puerto Ricans, generally have less of a concern concerning immigration stances of candidates. Cuban-Americans have special immigration status and Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens.
Puerto Ricans — concentrated in Central Florida — make up slightly less than a third and tend to vote Democrat.
The Cuban-American population — concentrated in South Florida and the Tampa Bay area — makes up more of a third of the voting rolls. They tend to vote Republican.
The Cuban exile community, which fled communist Cuba, is also sensitive to arguments about redistributing wealth, which Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is highlighting on behalf of the Romney campaign.
Republicans are playing up 1998 comments from then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama who said he believes in "redistribution" of wealth through government action.
“I think the trick is figuring out how do we structure government systems that pool resources and hence facilitate some redistribution,” Obama said then, “because I actually believe in redistribution — at least a certain level — to make sure that everybody’s got a shot.”