The Latino vote is a crucial part of the electorate in 2012, particularly in battleground states like Nevada, Virginia, North Carolina and Colorado. Polling indicates that Romney, who took a hardline stance against illegal immigration during the GOP's presidential primary, is struggling to attract their support.
But most Republican insiders are convinced Romney will do as well or better than the party's mid-term showing - 39 percent of them say he'll do better; 40 percent say he'll do the same. Despite conceding that the GOP standard-bearer's immigration agenda has hurt him, the insiders emphasized the still-sputtering economy and Obama's clash with the Catholic Church over contraception insurance coverage will boost his standing.
"President Obama has made no friends with religious Catholics," one Republican said. "Latinos are the most religious of Catholics in America today, and priests will work their parishes."
"His immigration policies are a problem for him with Latinos and he knows it," said an insider who thought Romney would match the 38 percent of the vote among Latinos. "What is not known is if Obama's economic problems trump Romney's past positions."
Holding Obama to 60 percent among Hispanics would be a boon to Romney's chances - the president won 67 percent of their vote in 2008, and the Latino share of the vote is likely to be larger four years later, particularly in southwestern states like Nevada.
"If he gets 38 percent, he'll probably be President," one Republican said. "He understands the importance, but he still needs to dig out of the hole he dug during the primaries by running to the right of noted liberals Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich."
In the primary, Romney criticized Perry for supporting a law that gave tuition aid to children of illegal immigrants and infamously suggested that people in the country illegally should "self-deport." For those reasons, most Democratic insiders think Romney is poised to fall well below the 38 percent of the vote House GOP candidates received two years ago. Seventy-seven percent of Democrats think Romney will do worse among Latinos on Nov. 6.
"Romney made a bad situation much worse by his strident anti-immigration positions during primary season," a Democratic insider said.
Added another: "The GOP has spent an enormous amount of time defining themselves as a modern day Know Nothing Party in the eyes of Latinos - electric fences; alligators on the border; no amnesty. Latinos will simply say, 'No se pueda por Mitt.'"
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