Republicans Hope to Close Deal With Latino Voters with Rubio, Bush

Republicans hope to appeal to the fastest-growing voting demographic on economy, education.

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TAMPA---Every major Republican Hispanic politician has been featured in the GOP convention program, culminating with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's scheduled address on Thursday night. Rubio has electrified Republicans with his ability to connect Republican economic philospohies with his own family's immigrant experience.

But experts say it takes more than just familiar looking faces for Republicans to woo more Latino voters to their cause. And GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney is trailing President Obama in the demographic by a 2-to-1 margin.

Pollsters have pointed to Hispanics as a key group for Republicans to make their pitch, but Romney's strict immigration stance staked out during the GOP primary is likely hurting him.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and Texas Senate candidate Ted Cruz—all of Hispanic heritage—highlighted their personal stories in achieving the American dream during speeches delivered so far at the convention.

"Growing up, I never imagined a girl from a border town could one day become governor," Martinez said on Wednesday night. "But this is America. Y, en America todo es posible."

Acknowledging her cultural differences from Romney, Martinez said the two were unified by their shared beliefs.

"We've each shared in the promise of America and we share a core belief that the promise of America must be kept for the next generation."

But Felipe Korzenny, director of the Center for Hispanic Marketing Communication at Florida State University, says the overtures were not specific enough.

"She just talked about coming from a humble Hispanic background; I don't hear really anything that talks about policy," he says. "I haven't seen anything directly to try to lure Hispanic voters."

Thursday night offers another—and final convention opportunity—to make inroads with Latinos. Speaking ahead of Rubio is former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is highly regarded by Hispanics thanks to his support for comprehensive immigration reform and education reforms supported by many in the community. Bush's brother, former President George W. Bush, earned the highest percentage of the Latino vote by a Republican in a presidential election, 44 percent in 2004.

"[Jeb] Bush did call for rational immigration reform," Korzenny says, adding that Bush's wife is Mexican-American. "He has more empathy with people from Mexico [than other Republican politicians]. I think he might be able to do something when it comes to appealing to voters."

The Latino appeal of Rubio may be overstated, Korzenny adds, because his Cuban roots separate him from other Hispanics on immigration. It's much easier for Cubans to immigrate legally than other Latinos, because of U.S. policy granting them political sanctuary.

"What Rubio has been saying is that families should come here legally, but that's easy for him to say," Korzenny says. "Cubans have a completely different experience than the rest of Hispanics. Coming here legally is almost impossible for most of Hispanics; the line is so long I think it takes 30 years to come to the U.S."

Korzenny agrees that the GOP has made a good economic argument that can appeal to Latinos, but the key to win more support is to outline specific policies rather than put down the president.

"I think some of the messages might have resonated, but this has become more of an Obama-bashing event," he says. "In my opinion it creates a boomerang effect—the more they bash Obama, the less credible they become in the eyes of Latinos because of the lack of spirit in collaboration or cooperation which is a part of the Latino culture."

America's Hispanic community is the fastest growing demographic, with more than 50,000 Latino youth becoming eligible to vote each month.