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january 30, 2012 • 10:01 AM

Mitt Romney Gets His Mojo Back

Mitt Romney has gained huge momentum in Florida.
Foto: AP
 

Maybe Mitt Romney is getting some mojo from LadyGaga.

Or maybe it's the high-speed backpedaling he'sbeen doing on things Latinos care about. But inthe week that he's been pouring millions ofdollars and every waking moment into Florida, he'spulled a turnaround in the polls of Newt-onianproportions.

Newt Gingrich came out of his South Carolinaprimary win on Jan. 21 like a rocket coming offthe launch pad at Cape Canaveral. Polls showed himovertaking Romney in Florida, and racking up acomfortable lead.

But in the week or so since, pretty much the samething has happened to him as happens after one ofthose NASA liftoffs, the boost he got from the twodebates just before the South Carolina vote ranout, and the former Speaker of the House isfalling quickly back to earth.

Now it's Romney's turn. In the latest pollsSunday, he had an 11-point lead on Gingrich andstill appeared to be climbing. It's almost exactlywhat Newt did to him just before South Carolina'svoters went to the polls.

Say, gracias, Mitt.

A big part of the surge appeared to come fromLatinos. (So, no, it doesn't seem like Lady Gagahad anything to do with it, even if she is pullingdown the supernatural help Internet rumor-mongershave been trying to connect her with.)

A Latino Decisions poll released last Wednesdayshowed likely Hispanic voters in Florida favoredRomney 35 to 20 over Gingrich. (Although a full 21percent were still undecided.)

Romney's got the support of the iconic andinfluential "Three Amigos", Ileana Ros-Lehtinen,and Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart, presumablygiving him a powerful lift among Cuban-Americanvoters. Friday he picked up the endorsement ofPuerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuño. That should helpwith some of the Puerto Rican Republicans who nowmake up the second largest block of Hispanicvoters in the state.

And Romney, who up until arriving in Florida sworeunequivocally, and repeatedly, that he'd veto theDREAM Act if he became president had a suddenchange of heart. Or, at least, he said he had anew position. (Some less charitable commentatorsmight say Romney proved this week he can do betterflips than an Olympic high diver.)

Now he says he would support half a DREAM Act. Hisexact words, two days after arriving in theSunshine State were: "I would not sign the DREAMAct as it currently exists, but I would sign theDREAM Act if it were focused on military service."Maybe the sudden switch had nothing to do with himbeing in the first state where the Latino votematters. On the other hand, maybe it did. Whoknows?

What is certain is that Florida Hispanics accountfor nearly 14 percent of the voters, and 11percent of the republican voters.

And the frontrunners in the Republican primaryrace have been doing a delicate dance across thestate since last week ¿ to a decidedly Latinrhythm.

This time, Hispanics count. Big time. Romney andGingrich both know it.

They¿ve both been devoting vast amounts ofcampaign time, and tons of advertising money, towooing Florida's Latinos.

In South Carolina, they both may have supportedtough crackdown laws that allow cops to stopanyone they think "looks like" an illegalimmigrant. And Romney may have proudly embracedthe endorsement he got from Kris Kobach, thearchitect behind the strict laws targetingundocumented immigrants in Arizona and Alabama.

But this is Florida. Immigration matters. Even forfolks who aren't directly affected, like Cuban-Americans and Puerto Ricans. Almost everybodyknows somebody who is. And the idea of kicking outkids who didn't even know their parents broughtthem here illegally, or deporting the undocumentedparents of children born here, doesn't go over sowell.

As Florida Sen. Marco Rubio put it at a gatheringof the powerful conservative Hispanic LeadershipNetwork, "For people in our community, the issueof immigration is not a theoretical one. It's notan issue of statistics. It's not always even anissue of law and order. It's an issue of theirlives and of the people that they love."

Maybe that's the kind of thinking that got Romneyto change his tune about the DREAM Act. Or maybehe¿s just fishing for votes.

The big question is what the Hispanic votersbelieve about him.

We'll know that Tuesday.

Terra/Carlos Harrison