Today, Mitt Romney will almost certainly capture Florida.
But the real question brewing in the run-up to the primary is whether he - or Newt Gingrich - can win the state when it really matters: the general election.
Florida, after all, went for President Obama by 2.5 points in 2008. Not a landslide, perhaps, but, by Florida standards, pretty convincing.
And part of that win meant appealing to Latinos, who make up more than 22% of the state’s population. Certainly, some of those Latinos are Cuban-Americans who cotton to anti-Castro rhetoric, but many of them are from other backgrounds: Puerto Rican, Mexican, and others. And they care about politicians’ stands on immigration. (More Latinos in Florida are now Democrats than Republicans.)
“Romney said at the Dec. 10, 2011 debate in Iowa," Miami Herald columnist Andres Oppenhimer has noted, "that the estimated 11 million undocumented people living in the country should be given a ‘transition period’ to ‘settle their affairs and then return home.’ He later described it as a ‘self-deportation’ plan.”
Syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette Jr. has unequivocally condemned Romney’s missteps: “the dishonest and cynical way in which the former governor of Massachusetts has dealt with the immigration issue on the campaign trail shows that he has a problem being consistent... We never forget a slight. And, in that respect, Romney has given us plenty to remember.”
In an election primarily focused on the economy, race may feel somewhat peripheral. But, since Florida is never peripheral, issues of race and immigration could prove crucial in the general election.
Gingrich may have taken down an ad labeling Romney "anti-immigrant," but the Governor still has a tough battle ahead.
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