If you're like most Americans, you were taught that it's best
to avoid talking about religion and politics in public.
Not so if you grew up in a Hispanic community, where any trip to the mercado or peluqueria was liable to include a discussion of politics. Both the Romney and Obama campaigns are going to have to do a lot more than translate campaign rhetoric into Spanish if they want to attract Latino voters; they're going to have to appeal to cultural differences.
"When I lived in Venezuela, you could get on an elevator with five strangers and before you got to your floor you would know exactly how those people are going to vote and why," said Jose Urdaneta, a Lancaster City councilman and a member of Pennsylvania Latinos for Obama, in a telephone interview. "It's a complete contrast to politics here. ... We were taught that politics is something you should talk about; you should have an opinion."
Mailers and television commercials aren't enough for Latino voters who expect personal interaction and answers to questions about government policy.
And both campaigns need to do a better job reaching out to Latinos, who make up the fastest-growing segment of the voting population, said Clarissa Martinez, director of civic engagement and immigration for the National Council of La Raza. "There's a window of opportunity for a candidate to make his case in the Hispanic community," said Jennifer Korn, executive director of the Hispanic Leadership Network, which sponsored a policy briefing in Tampa Tuesday.
In the last presidential election, 40 percent of all new voters were Hispanic, and by November, the number of Latino voters could exceed 14 million.
Some political scientists say former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's best strategy is to keep quiet because his immigration policy won't sit well with Hispanics in swing states such as Colorado, Nevada, Florida and Virginia, where the Latino population is growing.
"Because of the states in play you're not going to be talking about immigration if you're a Republican," said Rosalyn Cooperman, associate professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington in Virginia. "It's a risky thing for Romney, given the strong stance he's made on immigration."
Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuno, who spoke at the Hispanic Leadership Network event Tuesday, disagrees.
He told attendees that Mr. Romney and running mate Paul Ryan are true leaders who will make the country better for Latinos and all Americans.
"We do not have to run away from our moral principles to attract Latino support or any support. Instead we have to hold them up and explain where they will lead us as a nation," he told attendees.
Mr. Romney has taken a hard line on illegal immigration, advocating a high-tech border fence, creation of a national employment verification system, more funding for immigration enforcement and new fines for business owners who hire immigrants who are not in the country legally.
Some of his most forceful immigration arguments came during a January primary debate here in Tampa, where he said he would pressure illegal immigrants to "self-deport." He seems to have toned down his immigration rhetoric since it became clear he would win the party nomination.
Pennsylvania Congressman Lou Barletta, R-Hazleton, said the GOP shouldn't
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