Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney missed an opportunity to reach thousands of Latinos at the National Council of La Raza’s (NCLR) conference, the nation’s largest gathering of Latinos.
“This is a missed opportunity to work with a key organization that is connected to Latino voters from across the country,” NCLR President and CEO Janet Murguía told VOXXI Monday. “But even if he wasn’t going to come here, we would’ve really welcomed putting forth his positions on some of these issues [important to Latinos] and clarifying his positions.”
The 2012 NCLR Annual Conference in Las Vegas attracted 5,000 Latino leaders, community activists and elected officials. The event began July 7 and wraps up July 10, with a speech from Vice President Joe Biden on the behalf of President Barack Obama, who will not be attending the conference. Obama has attended the conference twice in the past – once in 2008 when he was running for president and again 2011.
Murguía said invitations to attend the conference were sent to Romney and Obama. Though she said she is disappointed that both presidential candidates declined the invitations, Murguía said she is particularly disappointed to hear Romney will not attend.
She added that when an invitation was sent to Romney’s campaign, it “took quite some time” to get a response. By the time NCLR was informed that Romney would not attend and would instead be sending U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez to speak on his behalf, Murguía said they no longer had time in their schedule to accommodate him.
“We had already set our agenda and we felt it was very difficult to accommodate that at the last minute, but we offered instead to show a video,” Murguía said.
When asked why Romney declined NCLR’s invitation to speak at the conference, Romney campaign advisor Hector Barreto, told VOXXI on Tuesday, “It’s very difficult to be in two places at the same time, and it’s the same reason that President Obama is not here. President Obama sent a surrogate, Gov. Romney did too, but unfortunately he wasn’t able to speak.”
Barreto, who’s also the chairman of The Latino Coalition and attended the NCLR conference, said Gutierrez met with Latinos at a booth on Saturday.
He added that Romney is reaching out to Latinos “in a very significant way.” As examples of this, he pointed to Romney’s speech at The Latino Coalition summit in Washington, D.C. in May and at the National Association for Elected and Appointed Officials’ conference in June.
“He’s going to continue doing these kinds of events throughout his campaign,” Barreto said. “Hispanic voters are very important and especially in key states around the country. We are going to work really hard and not take any votes for granted.”
NCLR had asked that Romney’s campaign customize a video directed to Latinos. Instead, the campaign sent in a video narrated by Romney’s wife, Ann, who spoke about her husband’s upbringing and values. It was shown on Monday during a luncheon at the conference.
Murguía said though showing “a regular campaign video” is not something the organization normally does, “I decided that in the spirit of fair play that we would show his campaign video at our luncheon so that he would have some visibility.”
However, Murguía said the video didn’t directly address some of the questions Latinos still have in terms of where Romney stands on various issues affecting the Latino community.
Some of those issues include the DREAM Act, legislation that would legalize undocumented youth through college or military service, and whether the former Massachusetts governor would strike down Obama’s announcement to defer the deportation of young undocumented immigrants and grant them work permits.
The last time Romney spoke on such issues, she said, was during the primaries when he said he would veto the DREAM Act and that he backed Arizona’s strict immigration law. Though Romney showed signs while speaking at the NALEO conference in June that he is softening his stance on immigration and is paying attention to Latino voters, Murguía said there are still many questions left unanswered.
“Unfortunately, the last we’ve heard from Gov. Romney on many of the issues that we care about in terms of solutions on the issue of immigration have been quite problematic, and we are very concerned about some of those positions,” she said. “This would’ve been a great opportunity for him to have come and clarified his position on many issues.”
Latinos disappointed in Romney
Many of the attendees at the 2012 NCLR Annual Conference were also disappointed in Romney’s absence.
Among them was Dolores Huerta, the civil-rights leader and co-founder of the United Farm Workers Union, who said the conference would’ve been an opportunity for Romney to meet with and hear from Latinos. Huerta told VOXXI she suspects Romney didn’t come to the conference because:
“Maybe he was too ashamed to face the people that he is campaigning against.”
Daniel Ortega, past chair of NCLR’s board of directors, told VOXXI he was “disappointed that Mitt Romney did not see fit to come to our conference.”
“Clearly he understands the value of the Latino vote and though he knows the value of it, he didn’t have enough respect to be here,” Ortega said.
“Mitt Romney could’ve at least sent a spokesperson, he could’ve sent Marco Rubio, he could’ve sent someone from his campaign to deliver his message. But to not have anybody I think was very disappointing, and I don’t think it will go well for him in November,” Ortega added.
Héctor Sánchez, executive director of Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, called Romney’s absence “a show of disrespect” for Latinos.
“He could’ve came here to have an honest conversation with us,” he said. “We’ve been putting pressure on Romney just to give us a simple answer on the issue of Obama’s administrative relief for DREAMers. We’ve asked the same question a lot of times and in various ways, but he’s decided not to give us an answer.”