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The GOP's fight for Latino voters in Florida

Photo by Calsidyrose/Fickr (Creative Commons)

As the Florida primary race intensifies ahead of next Tuesday's election, the Republican presidential candidates have been going all out in hopes of impressing the state's diverse Latino electorate.

Both front-runners Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich this week have gone so far as to suggest they would take extreme action in Cuba, with Romney telling a Cuban American group that he would make sure Fidel Castro, the long-ailing Cuban leader who has been in power for more than 50 years, was "taken off this planet." And both have tried to defend their positions on immigration, with Romney reiterating during last night's CNN debate in Jacksonville that he'd take a more lenient approach, while Romney took Gingrich to task for calling him "anti-immigrant."

One of them will secure the Republican nomination (Romney's now leading in Florida polls), but can they secure the Latino votes they'll need for a White House victory come November?

Even as President Obama's ratings among Latinos slide, the GOP has had a tough time with Latino voters, many of whom perceive the party's policies to be anti-immigrant. It's not the only issue Latinos are concerned about in 2012, but immigration is one on which even many conservative Latinos tend to draw the line. Why is this so, and what, if anything, can the GOP do to close the gap by November? Are there other issues important to Latinos - jobs and entrepreneurship, for instance - that the candidates should be trying to reach them on?

In a great segment on KPCC's AirTalk yesterday, I joined host Larry Mantle, Republican political analyst Hector Barajas and Democratic political consultant Roger Salazar to discuss this as next week's primary nears. Some excerpts from the transcribed conversation:

Barajas, on why the candidates might have success focusing on business issues: "Latinos are very entrepreneurial, as are Republicans. Everything about why Latinos come to this country is to find some sort of success for their family...We are very community oriented, but within that community you have the son, you have the aunt, you have the grandmother, that are all working in the same business to help out that family.”

Salazar, on why Gingrich is struggling in spite of a more moderate immigration approach: “I don’t think the voters will forget that [Gingrich] was a fellow who said that ‘Spanish was the language of the ghetto...this is a very diverse community, but one thing we have in common is that we don’t forget a slight.”

It was an insightful chat. The audio can be downloaded here.