TAMPA, Fla. – After a one-day delay, the Republican National Convention has kicked off, and the party’s overtures to women and Latinos – two groups with whom the GOP has lagged in this election cycle – will make up the centerpiece of Tuesday’s programming.
Some Republican Latinos regarded as rising stars in the party will be thrust into the national spotlight over the next few days, part of a comprehensive effort by the GOP to court Hispanic voters, an increasingly important voting bloc in several swing states.
Among the Latino speakers appearing at Tuesday’s Republican National Convention session are Rep. Francisco Canseco, R-Texas, Sher Valenzuela, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor of Delaware, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, and Texas GOP Senate nominee Ted Cruz.
And Luce Vela Fortuno, the first lady of Puerto Rico, will introduce Ann Romney before her highly anticipated address.
All conventions are choreographed to send a very specific message to voters, and are intended to win additional support that the presidential candidate or party might not have been able to count on.
But the stakes are particularly high for the GOP this cycle given Mitt Romney’s deficit with Latino voters, along with a similar disadvantage with women – groups whom the Obama campaign has assiduously courted as it charts a path toward re-election.
“The party has shot itself many times in the foot with the community; it hasn’t done all it could,” said Al Cardenas, the American Conservative Union chairman who’s long pushed for greater efforts to court Latinos. “The good news for Romney is that the party kind of hit bottom, so the arrow has nowhere to point but north.”
Republicans feel they’re putting forward more powerful voices than ever, though, in their bid to win over Hispanics. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s speech introducing Romney on Thursday is one of the convention’s most highly anticipated, as are the speeches by Cruz and Sandoval.
“I think the GOP putting our five highest-level elected Latinos as speakers at the convention is really a very good thing,” said Ana Navarro, a Florida-based Republican strategist.
President George W. Bush won 44 percent of the Latino vote in his 2004 re-election bid, and Arizona Sen. John McCain won 31 percent of the Latino vote in 2008. Both were proponents of comprehensive immigration reform.
In the most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Telemundo poll, Romney won the support of just 23 percent of registered Latino voters – an ominous sign, especially since Hispanic voters are wielding growing influence in several swing states.
“If the polls are accurate, and Romney is under 30 percent – in the high 20s with Latinos – it really is very concerning,” said Navarro.
“If the needle doesn’t move, put a fork in Romney because he’s done.”
Democrats have been dismissive of Republican efforts to court Latinos as mere lip service for Hispanic voters and their concerns.