TAMPA, Fla. – After a one-day delay, the Republican National Convention has kicked off, and the party’s overtures to women and Latinos – two groups with whom the GOP has lagged in this election cycle – will make up the centerpiece of Tuesday’s programming.
Some Republican Latinos regarded as rising stars in the party will be thrust into the national spotlight over the next few days, part of a comprehensive effort by the GOP to court Hispanic voters, an increasingly important voting bloc in several swing states.
Among the Latino speakers appearing at Tuesday's Republican National Convention session are Rep. Francisco Canseco, R-Texas, Sher Valenzuela, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor of Delaware, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, and Texas GOP Senate nominee Ted Cruz.
And Luce Vela Fortuno, the first lady of Puerto Rico, will introduce Ann Romney before her highly anticipated address.
All conventions are choreographed to send a very specific message to voters, and are intended to win additional support that the presidential candidate or party might not have been able to count on.
But the stakes are particularly high for the GOP this cycle given Mitt Romney’s deficit with Latino voters, along with a similar disadvantage with women – groups whom the Obama campaign has assiduously courted as it charts a path toward re-election.
“The party has shot itself many times in the foot with the community; it hasn’t done all it could,” said Al Cardenas, the American Conservative Union chairman who’s long pushed for greater efforts to court Latinos. “The good news for Romney is that the party kind of hit bottom, so the arrow has nowhere to point but north.”
Johnny Hanson / AP
Ted Cruz, left, and his general consultant Jason Johnson look at early returns in his war room at the JW Marriott in the Galleria during his runoff election on July 31, 2012, in Houston.
Republicans feel they’re putting forward more powerful voices than ever, though, in their bid to win over Hispanics. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s speech introducing Romney on Thursday is one of the convention’s most highly anticipated, as are the speeches by Cruz and Sandoval.
“I think the GOP putting our five highest-level elected Latinos as speakers at the convention is really a very good thing,” said Ana Navarro, a Florida-based Republican strategist.
President George W. Bush won 44 percent of the Latino vote in his 2004 re-election bid, and Arizona Sen. John McCain won 31 percent of the Latino vote in 2008. Both were proponents of comprehensive immigration reform.
In the most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Telemundo poll, Romney won the support of just 23 percent of registered Latino voters – an ominous sign, especially since Hispanic voters are wielding growing influence in several swing states.
“If the polls are accurate, and Romney is under 30 percent – in the high 20s with Latinos – it really is very concerning,” said Navarro.
“If the needle doesn't move, put a fork in Romney because he's done.”
Democrats have been dismissive of Republican efforts to court Latinos as mere lip service for Hispanic voters and their concerns.
A political panel joins Andrea Mitchell Reports to discuss the start of the RNC and preview Mitt Romney's speech on Thursday.
"You can't just trot out a brown face or a Spanish surname and expect people are going to vote for your party or your candidate," said Democratic Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa at a press conference Tuesday morning.
But arguably just as pressing for Republicans this week is their need to eat into Obama's and Democrats’ advantage among women.
Obama led Romney 51 percent to 41 percent among women in the August NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, and the GOP brand lags significantly behind the Democratic brand among women voters. Forty-five percent of women in the August poll had a favorable impression of the Democratic Party, while 36 percent had an unfavorable view; women voters had a 36 percent positive view of the GOP, and a 47 percent negative view.
Republicans are hopeful that Tuesday evening’s speeches by Ann Romney and Washington Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers will help soften women’s views of the party, especially on the heels of Missouri Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin’s recent comments about rape.
Other prominent GOP women taking the stage tonight are Gov. Nikki Haley, R-S.C., Gov. Mary Fallin, R-Okla., and New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte (a rumored member of Mitt Romney's vice presidential short list).
“We’re not in territory where we can’t win … you can lose women by 7 to 8 points and win the election,” said Sara Taylor Fagen, a former communications director in the Bush administration. “We’re in territory with Hispanics where, if over the long term we don’t improve, we can’t win.”
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Mitt Romney's wife, Ann, answers questions from the media on board their campaign plane on Aug. 28, 2012 en route to Tampa, Florida, for the Republican National Convention.
The Obama campaign has seized on instances where Republicans seemed to target access to contraception this past year in order to strengthen its advantage among women; it's backed up that message with millions in television advertising.
California Rep. Mary Bono Mack, a Republican who supports abortion rights, said earlier today on MSNBC that she wished the GOP would use “softer” language in its platform when it comes to reproductive rights.
“I think that we would be better served if we loosened that up a bit,” she said.
But Republicans might be better served to stay the course with their emphasis on the economy and health care rather than contraceptive issues.
“Women in this campaign who are going to vote on the basis of social issues have already probably decided for Barack Obama,” she said.