Mitt Romney, RNC make appeals to Latino voters ahead of major speech

Mitt Romney and the GOP are scrambling to counter President Obama’s momentum among Latino voters ahead of a late-week conference of Latino politicians, at which both Romney and Obama are scheduled to speak.

First it was Romney on Tuesday evening breaking his own code of silence on the vice presidential search to contradict reports that Florida Senator Marco Rubio—his most prominent and popular Latino surrogate—is not being vetted as a potential running mate.

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“The story was entirely false,” insisted Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. “Marco Rubio is being thoroughly vetted as part of our process.”

Then it was the Republican National Committee on Wednesday morning releasing a new Web video that blames Obama for the poor economic conditions of some Latinos. The video notes unemployment among Latinos stands at 11 percent, which is above the national average of 8.2 percent.

“While Obama plays politics, Hispanics are suffering in the Obama economy,” the video says.

Romney will address the annual conference of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Thursday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The president will speak Friday.

Obama—who already led Romney, 3 to 1, among Latino voters, according to multiple polls—has been enjoying a popularity surge since he issued an order last Friday that ends deportation of many young illegal immigrants brought to the United States by their parents. The order offers two-year deportation exemptions to more than 800,000 illegal immigrants who finish high school or serve in the military, using guidelines similar to those contained in the stalled DREAM Act.

A poll published Sunday by Latino Decisions showed 49 percent of Latinos now support Obama more enthusiastically because of the order. A Bloomberg poll released Tuesday indicated two-thirds of independent voters endorse the president’s directive.

The bounce for Obama was bad news for Romney, who has been working to improve his standing among Latinos by airing Spanish-language ads and forming a Hispanic Steering Committee.

Some Republicans have suggested one other way for Romney to reach out to Latino voters would be to name Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, his running mate. Rubio has already campaigned alongside Romney and speaks highly of the former Massachusetts governor in interviews.

But ABC News and, later, The Washington Post reported Tuesday that Rubio had not even been asked by the Romney campaign to submit questionnaires and financial documents as part of a vice presidential search that began two months ago. Romney initially said he would not comment on who is and is not being considered then amended his response to the reports later in the day by saying Rubio is being vetted.

A priority for Romney and the RNC appears to be shifting the political conversation from the vice presidential search and immigration to the economy, Romney’s number-one Latino talking point. Wednesday’s RNC ad followed a similar one by the Romney campaign, released in Spanish Monday, that also noted the 11-percent unemployment rate among Latinos and hit Obama for his statement two weeks ago that “the private sector is doing fine.”

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