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Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s introduction of Mitt Romney on Thursday night was the culmination of a Republican convention carefully calibrated to appeal to Hispanic voters. Rubio was the fourth speaker to break out into Spanish from the lectern. He told his family story of growing up working class in Miami, where his Cuban immigrant mother was a clerk at Kmart and his father worked 16-hour days.
The party knows that it must close an electoral gap with America’s fastest-growing population group if it’s to avoid demographic extinction within 30 years. Hispanic voters currently favor President Obama by more than 30 percentage points. The GOP’s policies, especially on immigration, don’t appeal to them. To that end, Rubio’s speech was heavy on story, light on policy.
Rubio could have talked about his idea to give some kind of residency pass to college students and those serving in the military. But he never pushed it as a piece of legislation in the Senate, so it went nowhere. Rubio has blamed his inaction on Obama’s June executive order that temporarily suspended deportations for immigrants under age 30. He just as easily could have blamed it on congressional stalemate—Democrats say it doesn’t go far enough and some Republicans think it goes too far. More to the point, Rubio is aware that a residency card with no path to citizenship is unlikely to arouse a lot of passion in Hispanic voters. And if he brought it to the Senate floor, Democrats would surely remind voters that Republicans like Rubio and Romney oppose the DREAM Act, which provides a path to citizenship.
Or Rubio could have talked about his desire to bring more highly skilled, well-educated workers into the U.S. on temporary visas. That’s what Romney wants to do. But considering that most Hispanics in the U.S. are working class, that’s not exactly bragging material either. Along the same lines, he could have brought up Romney’s plan to reform the temporary guest worker visa program for farm and other laborers. But the plan is light on details, so there isn’t much to say.
If he’d mentioned Romney’s support of tough immigration laws like those in Arizona, Georgia, and Alabama, he might have gotten a huge response from the largely white crowd (one of the biggest applause lines of the convention was South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley’s touting of her state’s immigration law). But that wouldn’t have gone over too well with the Spanish-speaking crowd.
So Rubio played it safe and stuck to his personal story. He didn’t seem to have much to offer Hispanic voters beyond that.