The Republican Party keeps saying jobs and the economy are the make-or-break issues in the presidential race. But now the front-runners are in Florida, where things swung south.As Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney took their turns in front of an influential and tremendously powerful group of conservative Hispanic political and business leaders Friday they poured on the salsa picante.
Immigration, Chavez, Castro and Puerto Rican statehood are what got the audience up on their feet, cheering and clapping wildly.
Welcome to Latino Territory.
Forget what worked in South Carolina (where Gingrich supported the state¿s anti- immigrant crackdown law and Romney embraced the endorsement from KOBACH the man who helped craft Arizona¿s infamous S.B. 1070 ¿ you know, the stop-¿em-if-they-look-illegal law). Winning here means winning the Hispanic vote. And even if the vast majority of Florida¿s Latinos are Cuban- Americans and Puerto Ricans, neither of whom have to worry about tough, catch ¿em and kick ¿em out immigration policies, the issue still hits home.
¿I challenge the republican nominees and all Republicans to not just be the anti-illegal immigration party,¿ the GOP¿s great Latino hope for the future, Sen. Marco Rubio said. ¿That¿s not who we are and that¿s not who we should be. We should be the pro-legal immigration party.¿
He knows what¿s at stake. So do the party¿s elders. The inflammatory campaign trail immigration talk is alienating Latinos all across the land. That might win an election today. But Hispanics (you¿ve heard this before, so go ahead and skip to the next sentence if you want) are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population.
In other words, we make babies. And babies grow up to be voters. Run us off now and there may not be a tomorrow for the GOP.
Gingrich has always had the more moderate immigration stance. He would find a way to offer longtime undocumented immigrants, ¿grandmothers and grandfathers¿ a chance to stay.
Well, now Romney says he¿s on board, too. Friday he said he favors giving illegal immigrants who are already here temporary work permits that would allow them to stay. He just expects them to leave when they expire. (No word yet from Kobach and the South Carolina folks who heard something completely different when he was running there.)
¿I like immigration,¿ Romney said. ¿I like legal immigration. I think it¿s important for America to recognize that immigration is an extraordinary source of vitality for our nation.¿
Of course, they¿re in Florida now, competing for a bigger chunk of delegates than New Hampshire and South Carolina put together.
The thing to watch is what they say when they move on to the next place.