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Romney's pitch to Latina voters does not add up

Mitt Romney committed a binder full of unforced errors in the second presidential debate.
Latino protesters march by the hotel where Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is scheduled to attend a fundraising event in Salt Lake City, Utah, September 17. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)
Latino protesters march by the hotel where Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is scheduled to attend a fundraising event in Salt Lake City, Utah,...

Mitt Romney committed a binder full of unforced errors in the second presidential debate. His misfires reveal why his campaign can’t seem to connect with the crown jewel of 2012 swing voters: Latinas.

The path should be clear to any astute campaign courting the attention and votes of America’s fastest growing voting demographic. But time and again, Romney's pitch just doesn't add up.

The Latino community has been battered by high unemployment, a devastating loss of jobs in sectors like construction, and a broken immigration system that continues to fail our families and our country at large.

Social issues have been eclipsed by pocketbook issues for our families. Latinas haven’t just borne the brunt of the impact on these issues; they also hold the keys to political redemption.

Plain and simple: Latinas vote. They outperform Latino men at the ballot box: 51% of Latina registered voters turn out to vote, compared to 39% of their male counterparts. Increasingly, Latinas are the heads of households and the economic breadwinners, a point not lost on President Obama during the debate but seemingly nowhere on Romney’s radar.

In a system where our politicians understand money and votes above all else, what other numbers did the Romney campaign need to crunch to see the writing on the wall?

The difference between the two campaigns’ approach to closing wage disparities could not have been starker. For every dollar earned by a man, the average American woman earns $0.77. The average Latina earns just $0.60.

Instead of connecting on personal issues, Romney turned to personal attacks, including during times where moderation and allegiance to the base call for delicate, but not impossible, word choice and finesse.

The Latino community’s approach to reproductive choice is complex, but it favors preserving that right by a majority (74%). On immigration, Romney built his arguments around the canard of granting driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, and played ignorant when confronted with ties between his campaign’s immigration policy adviser and Arizona’s notorious SB 1070, racial profiling law.

Romney's stance on these issue was an instant turnoff to a broad group of Latina moms, many of whom are raising families by themselves and increasingly understand these and other social issues through an economic, bread-and-butter lens. Taken in the broader view of President Obama’s action—and inaction—on many of these issues, the Romney campaign’s strategy is even more confounding.

During the second presidential debate, President Obama was pressed on his promise to introduce far-reaching immigration reform policies in his first year in the White House. It’s not the only time in recent weeks that Obama has had to answer the tough, and largely valid, critique. Host Jorge Ramos pressed the president on the same issue during the Univision presidential forums in September. It’s a well-documented and potent charge, so where was Romney on this one?

This isn’t to say that Romney whiffed on an attack opportunity. He actually did something much worse. He missed a policy opportunity, a place where Latinos and all Americans can justifiably hold the president to account for a pledge even his own campaign doesn’t believe they’ve delivered on.

If Romney possessed the vision and the courage to stand up to his immoderate base and let go of the Republican Party’s old prejudices, he could have spent the last few months describing a policy solution that was at the same time moderate while embracing America’s future by showing Latino voters a viable alternative to our broken immigration system.

Instead, Romney retreated to a boilerplate answer about “path to citizenship” without elaborating in any meaningful way how such a path would be constructed and how it might successfully navigate through the labyrinth of Congress.

The Romney campaign continues to treat Latinas and Latinos with ham-handed and condescending rhetoric. On every note, Romney misread the demographics and misplayed his cards. To a community fighting harder than ever to claim our rightful place at the table, Romney’s debate performance looked positively tone deaf.

With just one presidential debate remaining—Monday night’s debate will focus on foreign policy—he’s left with precious little time to make amends.