Attacking Obama on the Economy, Mitt Romney Makes a Play for the Hispanic Vote
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Looking to score points with Hispanics and slipping behind Gov. Rick Perry of Texas in the polls, former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts hit Tampa on Friday, as he continued his bid for the Republican presidential nomination.
Romney spoke to the Republican National Hispanic Assembly.
According to a poll from Quinnipiac University released earlier in the week, a majority of Hispanics -- 56 percent -- approve of President Barack Obama’s performance in the White House. With the unemployment rate remaining higher for Hispanics than the national average, Romney and other Republican hopefuls are looking to chip into Obama’s support with that group. In 2008, Obama carried 67 percent of the Hispanic vote against Republican candidate John McCain.
Picking up a phrase used by another politician from Massachusetts -- John F. Kennedy Jr. -- Romney called America a “nation of immigrants.”
“We’ve found common ground not in our heritage but in our hearts,” said Romney. “When generations looked up and saw the Statue of Liberty for the first time, or a piece of sandy beach that was freedom, or stepped off a plane traveling from tyranny to hope, these new Americans surely had many questions and doubts about the life before them. But one thing they knew without a doubt is that they were coming to a place where anything was possible; that in America, their children, and their grandchildren, would have a better life. That confidence in a better tomorrow defines us as Americans.”
Romney turned his focus toward the economy.
“We are united not only by our faith in America. We are united also by our concern for America,” Romney said. “Twenty-five million Americans are out of work, or have stopped looking, or have only part-time jobs but want full-time work. Hispanics have been hit terribly hard, with an unemployment rate that is higher than the national one. Home values have dropped more than they did during the Depression and Florida has seen some of the worst of it. National debt is almost as large as our entire economy, and we owe a huge chunk of it to China.”
Romney pointed to his record in the private sector and said that it helped prepare him for public office.
“Sometimes I was successful and helped create jobs, other times I wasn’t,” Romney said. “I learned how America competes with companies in other countries, what works in the real world and what doesn't.
“Turning around a crisis takes experienced leadership and bold action. For millions of Americans, the economy is in crisis today, and unless we change course, it will be in crisis for all of us tomorrow,” insisted Romney. “To win this fight for America's future, we will have to rise above politics.”
Romney offered praise for America’s role in the world and contrasted American exceptionalsim with Obama’s actions.
“So critical was President Obama of America before the United Nations that Fidel Castro complimented him for his ‘courage’ and ‘brave gesture.’ And Venezuelan dictator and thug Hugo Chavez joined in on the praise,” said Romney. “We can’t lead the world by hoping our enemies -- like the rogue regimes in Havana and Caracas -- will hate us less.”
Romney mentioned the jobs plan that he will unveil on Tuesday and offered some hints at what it would contain: lower taxes and regulations and calls for more energy exploration.
“From my first day in office my No. 1 job will be to see that America once again is No. 1 in job creation,” said Romney. “On Tuesday, I will present a detailed plan to get America back to work and to grow our economy. It will be bold, sweeping and specific. But any plan is only as good as the person leading it. And you know, if we want to create jobs, it helps to have a president who has had a job! I will make business taxes competitive with other nations, eliminate burdensome regulations and bureaucracy, and support America’s workers instead of its union bosses. I will promote the exploration of our own natural resources, which will create countless jobs. I will make sure that America’s workforce is prepared for the modern economy.”
Romney also hammered Obama for expanding the size and scope of the federal government.
“Government at all levels under President Obama has grown to consume almost 40 percent of our economy,” said Romney. “We are only inches away from ceasing to be a free-market economy. I will cut federal spending, cap it at 20 percent or less of the GDP and finally, finally balance our budget. We must pass a torch to the next generation, not a bill.”
While attacked by conservatives on his right for backing a state health-care system that relied on an individual mandate when he was governor of Massachusetts, Romney took aim at the federal law backed by Obama.
“I will insist that Washington learns to respect the Constitution, including the 10th Amendment," said Romney. “We will return responsibility and authority to the states for dozens of government programs – and that begins with a complete repeal of Obamacare.”
Romney also pledged to fight for free trade -- including two measures with Latin American countries currently stalled in Washintgon.
“I will vigorously advance our trade interests around the world,” said Romney. “That means ratifying pending agreements with allies like Colombia and Panama to create jobs right here in Florida and across America.”
Romney slammed Obama for failing to secure the border.
“Three years ago, candidate Obama promised to address the problems of illegal immigration in America. He failed. The truth is, he didn’t even try,” insisted Romney. “I am a great proponent of legal immigration. Many of you are living proof of the unique strength of America that is constantly renewed by new Americans. The promise of America has brought some of the world’s best and brightest to our shores. It’s what brought Mel Martinez, the first Cuban-American U.S. senator here. And it brought to America the parents of Marco Rubio, who is one of America’s great leaders today.
“Our country must do a better job of securing its borders, and as president I will. That means completing construction of a high-tech fence, and investing in adequate manpower and resources,” continued Romney. “We must also get tough on employers who hire illegal immigrants. That means putting in place an employment verification system that is both reliable and secure.
“Finally, we must stop providing the incentives that promote illegal immigration. As governor, I vetoed legislation that would have provided in-state tuition rates to illegal immigrants and I strengthened the authority our state troopers had to enforce existing immigration laws,” said Romney. “As president, I promise to lead on this critical issue. The people who came to America did not come for a handout; they came here for opportunity. The president and his party are about handouts and the redistribution of wealth. That is not what brought people to these shores. Our party is about freedom and opportunity. It’s as simple as that. They believe in government, we believe in freedom and opportunity.”
Romney’s appearance in Tampa drew the fire of two Hispanic Democrats serving in the Florida House -- Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando and Rep. Janet Cruz of Tampa.
“Mitt Romney wants the tea party vote,” said Cruz in a call with the media held on Friday morning. “He’s not after the Latino vote.”
Soto hammered Romney on education, knocking the Republican for opposing the DREAM Act. “We see Mitt Romney flip-flopping all over the place on this,” said Soto.
Both Democrats looked to defend Obama. Cruz shrugged off polls that showed Obama’s approval fading and Soto reminded the media that the general election was still more than a year away.
Romney was not the only Republican presidential candidate to speak in Tampa on Friday. Businessman Herman Cain, a favorite of the tea party movement, also spoke. Cain has lagged behind Perry and Romney , pulling in the single digits in most national and state polls.
Reach Kevin Derby at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (850) 727-0859.