GOP Presidential candidate Mitt Romney isn't the only member of the GOP out to get the Republicans a slice of the growing Latino voter pie. [Marco Rubio All the Buzz Online.]
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, rumored to be on Romney's short list for vice president, isn't waiting for the VEEP nod to start shaping a pro-immigration image for his party.
Rubio is throwing his political weight into fighting the stereotype that Republicans in Congress are on the wrong side of the immigration debate. [Schlesinger: Mitt Romney's Campaign Pivots.]
"It is a really tough line because Republicans are not necessarily used to courting [Latinos]," says Audrey Singer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. "The policies that are favored by the party run against a lot of the issues Latinos care about, immigration being one of them."
But Rubio will have his name on two immigration bills this year — just in time for the 2012 election.
"It is for certain that any positions Rubio or any other politician takes right now are taken with the presidential election in mind," says Christopher Deering, a professor of political science at George Washington University. "He's an idiot if he is not."
The junior senator from Florida co-sponsored the START 2.0 Act, legislation that would offer immigrants with advanced degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics a path to citizenship in May. And he is expected to introduce his own version of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act) in upcoming weeks.
While the exact language of the legislation is still veiled in secrecy, the bill will be a much more limited approach to immigration reform and would allow students pursuing higher education or military service temporary legal residency. [See a collection of political cartoons on immigration.]
Unlike Sen. Richard Durbin's DREAM Act, Rubio's won't offer immigrants a path to citizenship.
"This idea that he is working on would be narrow in its scope," says Rubio spokesman Alex Conant. "It is not the comprehensive approach to fixing a broken immigration system. This is very targeted to young people who are in a situation by no fault of their own."
The cost of the program, as well as the number of young immigrants it would affect, are still unknown, but the legislation is making headway on an issue few Republicans have brought to the forefront.
Durbin, for one, has indicated a desire to reach across the aisle to his Republican colleague to find a bipartisan solution.
While Singer says the plan is a far cry from the more sweeping legislation that has failed in the past or comprehensive immigration reform promised by President Barack Obama during the 2008 campaign, she says Rubio's moves could help to soften Latino Voters' perceptions of the GOP.
"Hispanic voters are paying attention to the kinds of things that are eye catching, this Dream Act or other forms of legalization are just that," Singer says. "It is hard to imagine that people can really get behind [Rubio's DREAM Act], but when you have been waiting so long even a diminished version seems positive."
But others warn Rubio's immigration legislation might turn off the Latino voters it was intended to woo or is too little too late.
"I don't think this will have any impact on the presidential election," Deering said."Republicans are on the wrong side on the immigration issue and Democrats are on the right side. They have tried to soften their immigration positions and have done so somewhat, but those are very nuanced distinctions... They are tip-toeing away from pretty strong positions."
A Latino Decisions poll reveals that while nearly half of the Hispanics polled support Rubio's proposal as a positive step forward, Latino voters still prefer Durbin's version of the DREAM Act.
However, Rubio isn't working alone. Off the hill, and in districts across the country, the National Republican Congressional Committee is engaged in some of the party's largest Hispanic outreach efforts.
Spokeswoman Andrea Bozek says the NRCC has 25 Republican Latino candidates running from Texas to Florida as well as strategic outreach programs to get out the vote in Latino communities.
"By and large Hispanics care about jobs and the economy first and foremost. With unemployment among Hispanics at 11 percent, they are going to look at the Democrats' job-destroying policies that have made the economy worse and hold them accountable in November."