By Frank Stoltze, KPCC
Seeking to gain traction with Latino voters, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney traveled to Los Angeles Monday to deliver his pitch to the annual meeting of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
“I’m convinced the Republican Party is the rightful home for Hispanic Americans,” Romney told more than 1,000 people during a noontime lunch at the J.W. Marriott Hotel in downtown L.A.
The GOP may be Latinos’ “rightful home,” but an NBC News-Wall Street Journal-Telemundo poll last month found them still preferring Democrats. The survey found President Obama leads Romney 63 to 28 percent among Latinos.
Romney sought to close that gap by touting his commitment to lower taxes and fewer regulations. He told the group of business leaders that Latinos have more reason than most to dump Obama: “While national unemployment is at 8.1 percent, Hispanic unemployment is at over ten percent.”
“I like the message,” said Leo Baron, who owns a Texas software company. “He’s a businessman and I’m a businessman. I can relate more to it.”
Romney sought to dispel the perception among many Latinos that the GOP is anti-immigrant. He pointed out that one million people legally enter the U.S. every year.
“I like that,” Romney said. “I want to preserve our heritage of robust, legal immigration.”
Romney quickly added he opposes any amnesty for the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the country. The room was silent as Romney warned that providing a path to legalization would threaten legal immigration.
“I do think he is still a little disconnected from the majority of Hispanics in the country,” said Victor Arias, who works for Korn-Ferry International in Dallas. Still, the independent voter appreciated Romney making the effort to attend the convention, even if he won’t vote for him.
“It signals that the Hispanic community should matter to the Republican Party,” Arias said. “It hasn’t mattered in the past — it hasn’t seemed like it.”
Bernadette Medrano, a registered Republican who runs an education non-profit in Santa Ana, said she was unimpressed by her party’s candidate. For her, Romney remains a bit of a mystery.
“He’s a man who hasn’t produced his taxes,” Medrano said. “We know very little about him.”
President Obama addressed the convention via a short taped video message.
“We cut taxes for small businesses 18 times,” the president said. “We helped Hispanic-owned businesses access more than $3.8 billion in new loans.”
Outside the convention, about 75 young protesters chanted and held signs that read: “Veto Romney, not The Dream Act.” Romney opposes the measure. Obama supports it.
Earlier, a group of local Democratic Party elected leaders, including Assembly Speaker John Perez and State Senator Alex Padilla, spoke out against Romney. Padilla criticized Romney’s proposal to reduce benefits in the federal Earned Income Tax Credit.
“That hurts middle class families,” Padilla said. “That hurts Latino families.”
Romney has defended the plan as a way to reduce the deficit.