Mitt Romney's presidential campaign is trying to end the deficit it's running with Latino voters by stepping up its outreach efforts.
President Barack Obama leads the presumptive Republican nominee by 40 percentage points among Latinos, according to the latest Pew Research Center poll.
In 2008, Obama carried two-thirds of the Latino vote, and just this week, the Obama re-election campaign released four Spanish-language ads.
The Republican National Committee's director of Hispanic outreach, Bettina Inclan, spoke to NPR's Scott Simon on Weekend Edition to explain how Republicans expect to close that gap.
Inclan acknowledges that the GOP has a lot to of work to do to connect with Hispanics. This week, the RNC announced the appointment of six Hispanic outreach directors in the key swing states of Colorado, Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina and Virginia.
"The reason that we are putting people on the ground is because each of these communities is different. Hispanics are not a monolithic vote. They're different communities with different priorities," says Inclan.
She says Republicans can gain ground by focusing the discussion on the economy. A Pew Research Survey conducted last December, found that half of the Latino voters surveyed considered jobs to be an extremely important issue; only a third of those surveyed considered immigration an extremely important issue.
"The one thing that does tie them all together is the number one issue for the last two years for Hispanics — in poll after poll — has been the economy and jobs," said Inclan. "That's a direct reflection of the poor track record of President Barack Obama."
Meanwhile, Romney has faced criticism for his stance on immigration, including comments he made during the GOP primary debates that when faced with tough immigration laws, illegal immigrants would choose self-deportation.
Obama's campaign, meanwhile, is highlighting the president's record on the economy and efforts to improve access to education for Latinos. They say the president's administration has kept millions of Latinos from falling out of the middle class.
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
As we just heard, Mitt Romney has some convincing to do with Hispanic voters. President Obama leads Mitt Romney among Hispanic voters by 40 points, according to the latest Pew Research Center poll. For more on how Republicans plan to close that gap, we're joined now by Bettina Inclan, the director of Hispanic outreach for the Republican National Committee. She joins us on the line from her office in Washington, D.C. Ms. Inclan, thanks so much for being with us.
BETTINA INCLAN: Thank you for having me.
SIMON: So, how do you react hearing a statistic like that?
INCLAN: Those who follow politics know that these months can be a lifetime in a political cycle. And one of the things that is demonstrated in those polls is that, unfortunately, name ID is low, so that's some of what you're seeing. And as the Republican candidates start really targeting and connecting and speaking to Hispanic voters across the country, that'll change.
SIMON: Still, President Obama apparently won 67 percent of the Latino vote in 2008. That's, again, winning by just about 40 points. So, do you believe that the findings of the Pew Research poll that show the president ahead by 40 points have nothing to do with what a lot of the Republican candidates, including Mitt Romney, have said about immigration?
INCLAN: I think that polls are just a quick snapshot in time of where we are now. So, does the Republican Party have a lot of work to do to connect with the Hispanic vote? Of course, but we are doing that. Just this week, the Republican Party announced six state directors in key battleground states that will be working directly with community leaders in each of these states, which is Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Colorado and Nevada. Each of these state communities is different, where Hispanics are not a monolithic vote. There are different communities with different priorities. They have a lot of things in common but we have to reflect those differences within the Hispanic population. But the one thing that does tie them all together is the number one issue for the last two years for Hispanics, and poll after poll said it's been the economy and jobs.
SIMON: I certainly think it's important to understand that Hispanic voters are not a monolith. That being said, the immigration issue has certainly gotten a lot of attention. And I wonder to what degree you think it might be responsible for how badly Republican candidates seem to be doing in nationally polling among Hispanic voters right now.
INCLAN: Immigration is an important issue. We can't ignore the issue of immigration. But when we talk about immigration, we can talk about another failure of this president: he promised as a candidate that he would pass immigration reform within his first year, and the only thing he has done is he's been the president that has a record number of deportations - most deportations of any president in American history. He talks about not dividing families; that's exactly what he did. So, that's President Obama's immigration record. When we talk about the bigger picture of how things are going to play, like, it is important but we have to talk about what's going to get them to the polls and it's going to be jobs and the economy.
SIMON: Would you foresee a Republican candidate - and, obviously, a lot of people seem to think it looks like Mr. Romney now - saying that he would be in favor of fewer deportations?
INCLAN: I don't know exactly what Romney's position is going to be on immigration. I know he's looking at different proposals. But we want to talk about Republicans and the Latino vote and how they will do. You talked a little bit about, you know, the polls. In 2010, the Republican Party did incredibly well with Hispanics. The only senator elected that was Hispanic was a Republican, Marco Rubio. The only Hispanic governors elected were both Republicans - Sandoval, the first Hispanic governor of Nevada, and the first Latina governor in American history was a Republican, Susana Martinez. And all the new Hispanic elected members of Congress were all Republican. That's a direct reflection of how important the Republican Party takes the Hispanic vote, not only reaching out to them but making them leaders within our own party.
SIMON: It sounds like - forgive me for wording it colloquially - that you're sort of saying in so many words: it's the economy, idiota.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
INCLAN: In so many words, yes, you could say it that way.
SIMON: Bettina Inclan, director of Hispanic outreach for the Republican National Committee, speaking from Washington, D.C. Thanks very much for being with us.
INCLAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.