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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

RNC Hispanic outreach meeting reveals challenges

WASHINGTON -- Republicans called a meeting Tuesday to show off their Hispanic voter outreach, pledging an aggressive effort in Florida and other key states that will focus on the economy.

They showed off, instead, how much work the GOP and Mitt Romney has to do.

"To my understanding, he is still deciding what his position on immigration is," Republican National Committee Hispanic outreach director Bettina Inclan said in response to a question about presumptive nominee Romney. "I can't talk about what his proposal is going to be. ... I can't talk about something that I don't know."

An alarmed RNC spokeswoman, reading tweets sent from the room, interrupted to say that the committee does not decide policy and a joint effort with Romney's campaign had just begun. "Let's all be fair and put this all in context," Kirsten Kukowski pleaded.

Inclan later tweeted, "I misspoke, Romney's position on immigration is clear." Her tweet included a link to Romney's campaign site.

Democrats jumped in, casting Romney as a hardliner, including calling for illegal residents to "self deport" and saying he'd veto the Dream Act. But with the nomination in grasp, Romney's also showing signs of moderation, keenly aware of the role Hispanics will play in November. That Republicans can't articulate a message underscores the work to be done.

The Republican outreach effort (which includes a field director based in Orlando) is also just beginning while the Obama campaign has been courting Hispanics for months. A recent Pew poll showed Obama taking 67 percent of the Latino vote, despite having failed to take up immigration reform as promised, an escalation of deportations and a poor economy.

Florida will be much closer but Obama been blanketing TV stations in South Florida, Orlando and Tampa with ads. The latest went up Tuesday in Orlando.

"We have six months," Inclan said when asked about the Democratic advantages.

Inclan said the No. 1 issue for Hispanics is the same as other voters -- jobs and the economy -- and the outreach would include social media and community interaction.

"To assume that the only thing we care about is immigration, is almost insulting," said Inclan.

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 8, 2012 5:22pm]


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