RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Mitt Romney is here in Los Angeles today, where he'll be interviewed on Telemundo and then give a speech to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Later this week, he'll be in Miami for a forum on Univision TV. NPR's Ari Shapiro reports on Romney's latest attempt to woo skeptical Hispanic voters.
ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: The U.S. Chamber Of Commerce tends to lean Republican. Hispanic voters tend to lean Democratic. So the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce could be a perfect place for Romney to convince some people in the middle to step into his camp.
Javier Palomarez is the group's CEO.
JAVIER PALOMAREZ: To a large extent, the things that we worry about as a Hispanic business community are universal: access to capital, the need to continue to grow our businesses.
SHAPIRO: The fact is, there's no way that Mitt Romney will win an outright majority of Hispanic votes. In 2008, 67 percent of Hispanic voters went for Barack Obama. Just 31 percent chose John McCain. But if Romney moves that even a little bit, it could make a big difference in states like Florida, Colorado, Nevada and others.
Republicans are putting a lot of weight behind nudging that dial. At their convention in Tampa, there were Spanish speakers on stage every night, including Craig Romney, talking about his father.
CRAIG ROMNEY: (Spanish spoken)
SHAPIRO: Marco Rubio and Susanna Martinez told only-in-America stories. Rubio is a senator from Florida and Martinez is the governor of New Mexico.
SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: We're united not as a common race or a common ethnicity. We're bound together by common values.
GOVERNOR SUSANNA MARTINEZ: This is America. In America, todo es possible.
SHAPIRO: Rubio and Martinez demonstrate that the Hispanic community is not a monolith. He's Cuban-American. She's Mexican-American.
Demographer William Frey of the Brookings Institution says Hispanics of different backgrounds have very different voting patterns.
WILLIAM FREY: In 2004, the Hispanics in Florida voted Republican. And in 2008, they voted Democratic. And what happened between 2004 and 2008? A big movement of non-Cuban Hispanics to the State of Florida, especially Puerto Ricans from the New York and Northeast metropolitan areas.
SHAPIRO: Puerto Ricans were particularly pleased that this president appointed one of their own to the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor. The Obama campaign has a new Spanish ad featuring a woman who describes herself as a Boricua, slang for Puerto Rican.
(SOUNDBITE OF AD)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Spanish spoken)
SHAPIRO: She says Mitt Romney opposed Sotomayor. He offended me when he when he stated he would have voted against her nomination.
Democrats gave their Hispanic up-and-comers prime speaking spots at their party's convention too. San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro gave the keynote address.
MAYOR JULIAN CASTO: The president took action to lift the shadow of deportation from a generation of young law-abiding immigrants called Dreamers.
SHAPIRO: Many saw that presidential directive helping young immigrants as an overt play for the Hispanic vote. And the Gallup poll does show the president maintaining the wide lead he had among Hispanics in the 2008 election.
Immigration has been a challenging issue for Romney. He used the term self-deport during the primaries, when rival Newt Gingrich called him the most anti-immigrant of all the candidates. Romney defended himself at a CNN debate in Florida.
MITT ROMNEY: My father was born in Mexico. My wife's father was born in Wales. They came to this country. The idea that I'm anti-immigrant is repulsive.
SHAPIRO: Romney has also tried to reach Hispanics by emphasizing issues other than immigration. A Gallup poll in June found that health care was the top concern cited by Hispanic voters. Unemployment came in second, with immigration third.
So this Spanish ad the Romney campaign released last week focused on health care.
(SOUNDBITE OF AD)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #21: (Spanish spoken)
SHAPIRO: The ad accuses the president of cutting Medicare. Romney has also argued that his business-oriented approach would create more jobs, including for Hispanics.
Romney may never convince Hispanic voters that he is more immigrant-friendly than President Obama. But if he's seen as the champion of health care and jobs, for many Hispanic voters that may be enough.
Ari Shapiro, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.