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RNC: We've only just begun to fight for Latino voters

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Thousands of demonstrators march during a May Day immigration rally in this file photo from Los Angeles, California.

With polling showing Mitt Romney getting crushed by President Obama among Latino voters, the presumptive GOP nominee admitted to donors last month that the data "spells doom for us” if the party cannot find ways to reach out to the crucial voting block.

But with the election just six months away, the Republican National Committee’s Hispanic Outreach Director Bettina Inclan told reporters at a briefing Tuesday that the RNC has just begun its effort to find and persuade Latinos to vote for Romney and the rest of the Republican ticket in six crucial states.

Inclan introduced Latino outreach directors for Colorado, Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, Virginia and North Carolina – all battleground states that Obama carried in 2008, with the help of Latino voters.

Analysis of exit poll data from 2008 indicated that without Latino support for Obama, New Mexico and Indiana would have switched into Republican John McCain’s column. But even without those two states, Obama would have still won enough electoral votes to win the White House.

But if Latino voting this November even partly reflects the increase in Latino population in states such as Colorado, North Carolina, and Virginia, then it could be decisive.

Related: RNC official says Romney 'still deciding' on immigration

Inclan said the RNC’s state-specific targeting of Latino voters and potential voters is “unlike anything we’ve done in the past …. Anyone who says we have one plan for all Hispanics doesn’t get the Hispanic community” because Hispanics in Florida differ from Hispanics in Nevada and even within Florida, for example, Hispanics in Miami will differ from those in Orlando. The RNC’s message will be bilingual and tailored to reach specific groups within each state.

When a reporter asked why Arizona, with its large Latino population, wasn’t on the GOP target list Inclan said, “All of our numbers show that it is going to be a Republican state. It’s not one of the battleground states.”

Inclan said “we need to rebuild some of these relationships” with Latino voters. “We need to do better with the Hispanic community because we haven’t done enough to reach out to them, we haven’t done enough to go to Spanish media and talk about issues that impact the Hispanic voter …. We’re not having enough of a conversation on the issues.”

She said the RNC has “a lot of specific data” on “who we have to reach out to” – but she was unwilling to give reporters any specifics about the RNC’s voter targeting strategy or its benchmarks for success in the six battleground states where the outreach directors will be working.

Will it be possible, for example, for Romney to do in New Mexico this November what President George W. Bush did in 2004 – winning the state by about 6,000 votes?

“I can’t give you our entire strategy, but clearly what we’re trying to get is a lot these swing voters, a lot of people who are disappointed with President Obama and trying to bring them over to the Republican Party,” Inclan said.

Stanford University political scientist Gary Segura, who is a principal in the polling firm Latino Decisions, said the RNC faces an exceedingly difficult challenge.

If the RNC tries to find hidden or potential Republican Latinos to register and mobilize, that’s not likely to work, he said. “I don't think there is much in the way of ‘latent’ GOP support that has yet to be tapped,” he said. “Latino Republicans are so exceptional--that is, uncommon--that they are effectively all registered. Those who aren't are demobilized by cross-pressures of ideology and social identity.  That problem would have gotten worse, not better, in the last several months.”

Segura said if he were a GOP consultant trying to figure out how to find Latino Republican votes, he would take the 2008 vote percentage of the Latino vote in each precinct, compare it to 2004, and look at places where the precinct was more Republican in 2004 than in 2008, holding the Latino share of the vote constant. “If were them, I would be looking at counties where estimated performance among Latinos got measurably worse from ‘04 to ‘08 and see if you could switch those back.”

But he said the electorate in a state such as New Mexico has changed since 2004 when Bush won. “Eight years is a ton of time in a population whose median age is 27 so there’s a lot of new voters in the system.” He cited one recent estimate that 50,000 Latino citizens turn age 18 every month.

Although much focus has been on illegal immigration and efforts such as Arizona’s S.B. 1070 law to deter it, Inclan said the economy and unemployment will trump the issue of immigration.

“Hispanics are so disappointed with this president. A big reason they are disappointed is how things are going: when Hispanic unemployment is so high, when so many kids living in poverty are Hispanics, the numbers speak for themselves. That’s what’s going to get people riled up.”

But she did slam Obama on immigration, saying Latinos were “incredibly disappointed” with his immigration policy and his failure to persuade Congress to enact immigration reform.

“He talked about uniting families and all he’s done is deport more immigrants than any president in American history,” she said. “It’s another example of how he’s failed the Hispanic community.” Her message on that point seemed to clash with the views of conservative Republicans in Congress who say that immigration laws ought to enforced and those here illegally ought to be deported.

Many Latinos, Inclan said, see Obama as “another politician that promises the world as a candidate and now he becomes president and doesn’t feel the need to make the issues that he promised Hispanics a priority.”

Inclan blundered when she said, of Romney, “My understanding is that he’s still deciding what his stand on immigration is, so I can’t talk about what his proposals are going to be,” a comment she later said on Twitter was a misstatement.

And Inclan pushed back at reporters who focused on immigration during the briefing, arguing that “people continue to pretend that the only thing that Hispanics care about is immigration. Most Hispanics were born here in this country. We are American citizens. While immigration is an important issue, we are American citizens, so to assume the only thing we care about is immigration is false” and “almost insulting.”

Romney said at a Florida fundraising event last month that his party must offer a "Republican DREAM Act," and his potential running mate Sen. Marco Rubio is in the process of drafting such a bill to allow younger illegal immigrants brought to America by their parents to get non-immigrant visas and continue to work and study in the United States.