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El Pais, Colombia

Newt and Mitt Arrive Late

By Jorge Ramos

Indeed, that little bit of hope is what Republicans need to give to the 12 million Latino voters in order not to lose the next election.

Translated By Oscar Lees

4 February 2012

Edited by Janie Boschma

Colombia - El Pais - Original Article (Spanish)

Without the Latino vote, neither Newt Gingrich nor Mitt Romney will be able to reach the White House; that is the new rule of politics in the United States. And the way things are going, unless they change their stance toward illegal immigrants, they are going to lose the battle with President Barack Obama.

I interviewed Gingrich and Romney separately in a forum organized by Univisión, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Miami Dade College. Their styles are diametrically opposed. Romney arrived from behind the scenes and left the way he came without getting photographed with the attendees. When responding to questions from the audience, he stopped, never moving from the same spot. He almost did not improvise answers and never set the public on fire. The former governor of Massachusetts always remained focused on his message. His communication and security teams have nothing to ask of Obama; in fact, Romney behaves almost as though he were already president.

Gingrich is more informal and less predictable. He entered through the middle of the audience, said a memorized greeting in Spanish and, before leaving, spent nearly 20 minutes getting photos taken with the attendees. He enjoys the exchange of ideas, so much so that at times he talks a little too much, but he knows how to fill the public with enthusiasm and to connect with them emotionally. His campaign has neither the discipline nor the money that Romney benefits from, and it shows: He arrived with far fewer bodyguards and assistants than Romney. Gingrich behaves like … Gingrich.

I asked Romney how much money he had and, as is normally the case with very rich people, he did not give me an exact figure. “Well … it’s between a $150 million and about $200 and some odd million. I think that’s what the estimates are,” he told me, and then went on to explain that he had not inherited any of the money from his parents.

Despite the fact that Romney’s father was born in Mexico, Romney does not consider himself Latino. “I don’t think people would think I was being honest with them if I said I was Mexican-American,” he told me, adding with humor, “But I would appreciate it if you’d get that word out.”

I had to ask Gingrich if he was not a hypocrite for criticizing and accusing Clinton during his presidency of having an affair with Monica Lewinsky. When Gingrich was leader of Congress, he had, at the same time as Clinton, a relationship outside of marriage with his current wife, Calista.

“I didn’t do the same thing,” he answered. “I never lied under oath … I have never been involved in a felony — he was.” The matter, of course, is not a legal question but a moral one. Yet Gingrich did not consider his attitude to be hypocritical.

The two candidates knew that they would be grilled on their immigration policy. Many Hispanic people see them both as anti-immigration and anti-Latino for rejecting immigration reform that would legalize 11 million illegal immigrants and for opposing the Dream Act, which would give legal residence status to some 2 million students who arrived very young with their parents.

Gingrich — who had accused Romney of being “anti-immigrant” in one statement — told me that Romney’s plan for self-deportation of millions of illegal immigrants was a “fantasy.” “Mitt Romney is not going to get the country to agree to kick out grandmothers and grandfathers.”

Romney believes that if a strict program were introduced to identify those people who can work legally and severely sanction those who employ illegal immigrants, “over time, people [without documents] will find it less attractive to be here if they can‘t find work here. Some refer to that as self-deportation.” Conversely, Gingrich’s proposed migration policy has softened. Although he is a faithful follower of Ronald Reagan — who in 1986 gave amnesty to 3 million people — he would not grant citizenship to illegal immigrants, but he would grant residence to those who have been living in the country for more than 20 years, provided they had not committed a crime.

But the novelty in Gingrich’s plan is that he would offer a work permit to those illegal immigrants who have been in the U.S. for less than 20 years. When I told him that current laws do not permit that, he responded: “We can write a law which makes them eligible to apply for the guest worker permit.” That is to say, Gingrich would not offer residence or citizenship to the majority of illegal immigrants, but he would offer “a work permit” and a little bit of hope.

Indeed, that little bit of hope is what Republicans need to give to the 12 million Latino voters in order not to lose the next election. Any Republican candidate needs at least one-third of the Latino votes to reach the White House. And the latest polls by Univisión, ABC and Latino Decisions indicate that Obama would easily win the Latino vote against Romney (67 percent versus 25 percent) and against Gingrich (70 percent versus 22 percent).

Romney and Gingrich alike have taken too long to understand the importance of the Latino vote. What they have said in the Republican nomination campaign has done them much damage among Hispanics. And it is very possible that, although they are now changing their discourse, they have arrived too late for the party.



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