Mitt Romney Makes Pitch for Latino Voters, But Faces Long Odds

Romney hopes to appeal to Hispanic business owners, but stances on healthcare and immigration hurt.

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Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney lifts a baby as he campaigns at Van Dyck Park in Fairfax, Va.

As Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney prepares to make a move to appeal to Hispanic voters this week, he's in search of an "Etch-a-Sketch" moment that one of his top advisers alluded to earlier in the campaign season.

Romney, slated to speak Monday before members of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles, needs to smooth over his relationship with the minority group after taking the most extreme anti-immigration position during the GOP primary. While most of his prepared speech focuses on economic issues, it also contains obviously toned down language on immigration aimed at winning Latino votes.

"Americans may disagree about how to fix our immigration system, but I think we can all agree that it is broken," said an excerpt of Romney's speech distributed by his campaign. "I will work with Republicans and Democrats to permanently fix our immigration system. America is a nation of immigrants and immigration is essential to our economic growth and prosperity."

[Read: Michele Bachmann bashes Obama on foreign policy.]

It's a marked change in how Romney discussed the issue when debating his Republican opponents. He had called on making life so difficult for illegal immigrants that they would "self-deport" and also has promised to veto the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship through education or military service for children of illegal immigrants brought here through no fault of their own.

Romney's speech also criticizes President Barack Obama for not passing comprehensive immigration reform when his party was in control of Congress.

"Candidate Obama said that one of his highest priorities would be to fix immigration in his first year in office," Romney is expected to say. "Despite his party having majorities in both house of Congress, the president never even offered up a bill. Like so many issues confronting our nation, when it comes to immigration, politics has been put ahead of people for too long."

The Obama campaign has already put out a Web video mocking Romney's apparent changing position on immigration policy as an "extreme makeover" akin to the popular home makeover television show.

[Check out U.S. News Weekly: an insider's guide to politics and policy.]

"Can Romney cover up his belief in self-deportation as an immigration solution with a bold new wallpaper choice?" says the video's narrator. "Will a new window treatment help disguise his cuts to education and college scholarships? If he does something amazing with spackle, will people forget he's promised over and over again to repeal Obamacare on Day One—denying millions of Latinos comprehensive healthcare coverage? And on his promise to veto the DREAM Act….well, duct tape can fix everything, can't it?"

A new poll shows just how wide the chasm is between Obama and Romney with Hispanic voters. After a slight improvement in his showing following the Republican National Convention, which took place in Florida and featured many top Latino politicians, Romney now again garners just a quarter of Hispanic voters and trails Obama by 42 percentage points, 68 percent to 26 percent.

The gender gap, which exists among voters of all races, is also pronounced among Latinos, according to the Latino Decisions tracking poll. Obama is winning Hispanic women, 74 percent to Romney's 21 percent, and leads 61 percent to 32 percent among men.

[Read: Media quick to overstate Romney's political demise.]

"Ugly framing about Latina fertility and their children in context of immigration position-taking probably led many Latinas to think Republicans were not in their corner well before they started parsing words defining rape, adopted a platform position to ban all abortion, and waged a fight against covering birth control," said analysis by Latino Decisions released with the survey. "It would be entirely shocking if Hispanic women suddenly became the champions of the party and candidates that put that phrase into the national lexicon."

The poll, released Monday, should also give the Romney campaign pause that targeting the economy alone will help make inroads with Latinos. The poll's analysis warns that for more than most, Latinas see the economy, jobs, immigration, and healthcare not as single issues.

"Things like jobs, economic concerns and healthcare are inextricably connected for this community," said the polling memo. "For example, Latina voters are likely to have more care-giving responsibilities than other voters, and less income. We know that Latinos lack healthcare at higher rates, have more children than non-Latino whites, and have more multi-generational households.

All of these factors make 'healthcare' more pressing for Latina voters who are concerned with their family's actual health, as well as the impact it can have on the household's economic stability."

Rebekah Metzler is a political writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at rmetzler@usnews.com or follow her on Twitter.

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