Latino flavored Republican convention seeks gains with Hispanics

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Chairman of the Republican National Committee Reince Priebus gavels the Republican National Convention open in Tampa, Fla., on Monday, Aug. 27, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

When former Puerto Rico Attorney General Jose Fuentes first stepped on the Republican National Convention floor Monday, he didn’t have to look hard to find the designated spot for his delegates.

“Look at where Puerto Rico is,” Fuentes told VOXXI, referring to the section reserved for delegates from each state and gesturing toward Puerto Rico’s seats–right up front next to the stage within winking distance of nominee Mitt Romney when he speaks Thursday.

Republican Convention

Puerto Rico is one of the lucky delegations with seats right up front next to the stage. (Photo Elaine de Valle/VOXXI)

“We’ve arrived, baby,” said Fuentes, who is also co-chair of the Juntos con Romney Hispanic outreach campaign.

He and others agree: This aggressive effort by the party to reach Hispanics and capture the Latino vote through a Republican convention is unprecedented.

And imperative.

“The Latino vote is instrumental for Romney to win,” Fuentes told VOXXI.

From the location of the Puerto Rican delegation to the preservation of every Latino speaker in a storm-shortened schedule to events like the Rojo, Blanco y Tu education forum by the Hispanic Leadership Network, the Nuestra Noche party at the historic Cuban Club in Ybor City and the “Tapas, Tequila and Tropical Tunes” dinner party tonight, this convention is the most Hispanic any has ever been.

“It’s game on,” said Romney campaign spokeswoman Ana Carbonell. “Because we are the future of this country. We have 60 days and after the convention is over, the country and Hispanic voters will know that this is the ticket for them.

“We are Hispanics. But we are first and foremost Americans,” Carbonell told VOXXI, adding that the campaign would release a new Spanish-language ad Tuesday morning at the Republican convention.

Why so much emphasis on the Latino vote and Hispanic representation? “Because we are the future of this country,” Carbonell said.

According to the U.S. Census, Hispanics more than 16 percent of the country and are the fastest growing minority. By 2050, the government estimates that 30 percent of the population will be Hispanic  — or almost 1 in ever 3 people. Already this year, somewhere between 10 and 12 million are expected to cast ballots come November.

And there is reason to believe the GOP is gaining momentum with the Latino vote. In 2010, every Hispanic elected to the U.S. Congress was a Republican. Three Latinos made it to the VP shortlist. At least four Hispanics are headliners at the convention this week: Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuño, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and Texas Senate candidate Ted Cruz. Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval has also made several remarks and Luce Vela, the first lady of Puerto Rico, will introduce Ann Romney at tonight’s address.

But even before Mrs. Romney takes the stage, the second speaker Tuesday after Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus is Zoraida Fonalledas, the National Committeewoman for Puerto Rico, who is also the chairwoman of the party’s permanent organization committee and will be giving a report tonight.

And don’t think the Democratic Party hasn’t noticed. In an event that seems to be in direct response to the GOP’s courting of Latinos, the Obama For America campaign will gathered 24 Hispanics from South Florida for a press conference in Miami Tuesday that will rail against Romney and Paul Ryan, who voted to end the embargo on Cuba three times.

Hispanics are not just being sought, they are being celebrated.

“It’s really how it should have been all along,” said Al Cardenas, chairman of the American Conservatives Union, a Republican political action committee in D.C.

Republican Convention

Zoraida Fonalledas, the National Committeewoman for Puerto Rico, will be the second speaker at Tuesday’s address at the Republican National Convention. (Photo Elaine de Valle/VOXXI)

Roger Stone, a veteran Republican Party strategist who worked with the likes of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George Bush says that the Party has no choice but to chase the Latino vote and build their Hispanic membership.

“If they don’t learn how to [attract Hispanics], they’ll be done,” Stone told VOXXI at the Cuban Club Monday night as salsa star Willy Chirino stepped on stage.

Earlier in the afternoon, Fuentes told VOXXI that Hispanics were waking up to the fact that President Barack Obama’s administration has not come through with its promises.

“Four years ago, Obama promised change and he gave the Hispanic community a lot of hope. Now, they are seeing he hasn’t come through,” Fuentes said. “Hispanics have a higher percentage of unemployment. We are working twice as hard and making half as much.”

He predicts a surprising percentage of the Latino vote will go to Romney in November.

“There is an undecided, large, floating Hispanic vote, not necessarily independent, but floating. They may be registered Democrat, but they vote their conscious and their values. They may have voted for Obama in 2008, but many are not sure they want to vote for him again,” Fuentes said.

“They were waiting to get to know Romney. But now, after the convention, they will understand who he is, what he stands for and how he’s going to change the quality of life,” he told VOXXI.

On the issue of immigration, which is where Romney rubs Latinos the wrong way most, Fuentes said that Hispanics will also learn that the Republican candidate is not the devil that Democrats make him out to be. He told VOXXI that the address Romney gave to the gathering at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials in Junewhere he spoke about “guest worker” visas and retaining students with advanced degreeswas more than lip service. “Now he has to show he’s serious about the immigration problem,” Fuentes said.

“And he will. For the first time ever on a Republican platform, you’re going to find a guest worker program,” he said.”Mitt Romney is pro immigrant. He’s pro legal immigrant.”

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