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Perry the Only Credible Choice for Latino Conservatives

Romney's attack on Perry's immigration policies has angered GOP Latinos.

by
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

Bio

October 26, 2011 - 12:22 am
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For Sosa, and a lot of other Latinos I’ve heard from in recent weeks, what cooked Romney’s goose with Latinos was the craven and dishonest way that he tried to use the immigration issue to bludgeon his major opponent, Texas Gov. Rick Perry. It was Romney who first brought up — during the CNN/Tea Party debate — the fact that Perry had signed a law allowing illegal immigrants who live in Texas and go to a state university to pay what other residents of the state pay: in-state tuition. And it is Romney who, having supported a comprehensive approach to reform that allows illegal immigrants to earn legal status, has now tried to remake himself as a fire-breather opponent of illegal immigration.

Latinos see that, and they resent being hoisted into the air and turned into a piñata for the benefit of someone’s White House ambitions. They know better than most Americans how complicated the immigration issue is, and they’re fed up with politicians who offer simple solutions that don’t hold water.

After the CNN/Tea Party debate, I got a phone call from a friend and Latino Republican political consultant who was incensed at how Romney had used illegal immigration as a weapon against Perry. “I’ll tell you what,” my friend said, “I have a new respect for Rick Perry for standing his ground. And I’ve lost all respect for Mitt Romney. If he’s the nominee, I’ll do everything I can to defeat that son-of-a-bitch!”

These are Republicans we’re talking about. You can imagine how poorly Romney would do with Latino independents and Democrats. Sosa is right. Romney is done with Latinos.

Here’s why that matters: There might be an estimated 12 million Latino votes cast next year. About 60 percent will likely go to Barack Obama; but that still leaves 40 percent on the table. Any Republican who could make a serious pitch for that support would be tough to beat. Conversely, any Republican who writes off those Latino votes will easily lose to Obama.

Besides, given the degree to which Obama has outraged Latinos with his dishonest and heavy-handed immigration enforcement policies, turnout on the left could be lighter than it was in 2008. If Republican conservatives turn out in large numbers, they could have a much greater impact on the outcome of the election than they are used to having.

That makes it all the more critical that Republicans nominate a candidate who Latino conservatives can get behind. And right now, everything I hear from around the country says that, for many Latino conservatives, the GOP field has narrowed to one name and one name only: Rick Perry.

I can relate. As a Latino voter who is conservative in some respects and who would easily consider supporting the right kind of Republican candidate for president next year, my message to the GOP is simple: “In this case of Texas Hold ‘Em, I’m all in. Either you go with Perry, or you can go to hell.”

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Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a member of the editorial board of the San Diego Union Tribune, a nationally syndicated columnist, a frequent lecturer, and a regular contributor to CNN.com.
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