The Republican Party keeps saying jobs and theeconomy are the make-or-break issues in thepresidential race. But now the front-runners areinFlorida, where things swung south.
As Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney took their turnsin front of an influential and tremendouslypowerful group of conservative Hispanic politicaland business leaders Friday they poured on thesalsa picante.
Immigration, Chavez, Castro and Puerto Ricanstatehood are what got the audience up on theirfeet, 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 theendorsement from KOBACH the man who helped craftArizona's infamous S.B. 1070 - you know, thestop-'em-if-they-look-illegal law). Winning heremeans winning the Hispanic vote. And even if thevast majority of Florida's Latinos are Cuban-Americans and Puerto Ricans, neither of whom haveto worry about tough, catch 'em and kick 'em outimmigration policies, the issue still hits home.
"I challenge the republican nominees andall Republicans to not just be the anti-illegalimmigration party," the GOP's great Latino hopefor the future, Sen. Marco Rubio said. "That's notwho we are and that's not who we should be. Weshould be the pro-legal immigration party."
He knows what's at stake. So do theparty's elders. The inflammatory campaign trailimmigration talk is alienating Latinos all acrossthe land. That might win an election today. ButHispanics (you've heard this before, so go aheadand skip to the next sentence if you want) are thefastest growing segment of the U.S. population.
In other words, we make babies. And babies grow upto be voters. Run us off now and there may not bea tomorrow for the GOP.
Gingrich has always had the more moderateimmigration stance. He would find a way to offerlongtime undocumented immigrants, "grandmothersand grandfathers" a chance to stay.
Well, now Romney says he's on board, too.Friday he said he favors giving illegal immigrantswho are already here temporary work permits thatwould allow them to stay. He just expects them toleave when they expire. (No word yet from Kobachand the South Carolina folks who heard somethingcompletely different when he was running there.)
"I like immigration," Romney said. "I likelegal immigration. I think it's important forAmerica to recognize that immigration is anextraordinary source of vitality for ournation."
Of course, they're in Florida now, competing for abigger chunk of delegates than New Hampshire andSouth Carolina put together.
The thing to watch is what they say whenthey move on to the next place.