Despite apparent courtship of Latino voters, Mitt Romney still faces wide voting gap

A day after Mitt Romney addressed the Latino Coalition , the presumptive Republican nominee released a second Spanish-language ad outlining the agenda for his first day in office.

But Romney’s attempts to court Latino voters—with whom he is unpopular—appear half-hearted, according to some observers. The ads indicate Romney’s early to-do list does not include immigration reform, a subject he also ignored Wednesday when speaking to Latino business owners at the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington.

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“One hypothesis—and I hope I’m wrong about this—is he may be writing off the Latino vote,” said David Scott Palmer, a professor of international relations and political science at Boston University and the former chair of Latin American and Caribbean Studies at the US Department of State.

A poll published Wednesday by NBC News and The Wall Street Journal showed Romney trails President Obama by 34 points among Latino voters. The national survey revealed 61 percent support Obama, compared to 27 percent who back Romney.

In the past, it has been possible for Republican candidates to win the White House, despite losing the Latino vote badly. In 2000, George W. Bush lost the Latino vote by 27 points; George H.W. Bush lost by 39 in 1988.

But Latinos are a burgeoning segment of the electorate—3 percent in 1988, 7 percent in 2000 and 9 percent in 2008.

Obama, who won 67 percent of the Latino vote four years ago, has indicated his campaign will try to increase turnout among Latino voters this fall. In a video last week that highlighted its recent initiatives, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said the campaign was bolstering its staff in Arizona, a state that has voted Republican in three straight presidential elections but which has a sizeable Latino population.

“It wasn’t a swing state last time around,” Messina said, “but if we can help register the hundreds of thousands of eligible voters who missed out in 2008, we can put it on the table this November.”

Former Romney adviser Mike Murphy said last month that the growth of the Latino population means Republicans must pay closer attention to those voters than they have in the past.

“You don’t have to win the Latino vote,” he said during a panel discussion at Harvard University, “but you can’t lose by 30 points.”

Though the NBC/WSJ poll showed Romney with much ground to make up, it also hinted at several pathways to do so. Only 29 percent of Latinos identified themselves as liberal, a label Romney has assigned to Obama. Sixty-five percent called themselves moderate or conservative.

The survey also suggested Latino voters are not listening to the Obama campaign’s criticism of Romney’s business record at the private equity firm Bain Capital. Only 11 percent said they have negative feelings toward Bain Capital; 66 percent said they are unsure or are unfamiliar with the company’s name.

Meanwhile, 51 percent said Romney’s business experience would give him an advantage in efforts to improve the country’s economic and job conditions; just 14 percent said it would be a disadvantage.

But so far, Romney’s hard line on immigration—on the few occasions when he has discussed it—seems to be enough to repel Latino voters. He opposes the DREAM Act, a bill popular among Latinos that would facilitate citizenship for illegal immigrant youths who enroll in college or enlist in the military. Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a potential Romney running mate and bridge to Latino voters, outlined a conservative alternative to the DREAM Act in April, but Romney did not embrace it.

The former Massachusetts governor advocates a well patrolled fence along the Mexican border and has described a strategy of “self-deportation, which is people decide they can do better by going home because they can’t find work here because they don’t have legal documentation to allow them to work here.”