By Maria Peña.
The apparent ineptitude of Republican candidate Mitt Romney in saying that he would have a better chance of winning the U.S. presidency if he were of Mexican descent might well cost him the Hispanic vote he is trying to win in November.
Romney has been in the headlines, not for his attacks on the President Barack Obama's handling of the economy, but for a self-inflicted wound - a video released Monday by the liberal online magazine Mother Jones shows him belittling those who support the president, accusing them of thinking of themselves as victims and wanting to be supported by the government.
In the video, shot secretly during a May 17 fundraising event in Boca Raton, Florida, Romney speaks with contempt about the 47 percent of voters who will choose Obama "no matter what."
"I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives," the multimillionaire former Massachusetts governor said.
"These are people who pay no income tax," he said, referring to the 47-percent group, though two-thirds of people in that category are employed and pay federal payroll taxes.
Behind closed doors, Romney also mentioned Hispanic voters, who in the United States have primarily backed the Democratic Party.
Romney jokes about his late father, auto executive and one-time Michigan Gov. George Romney, who was born in Mexico to U.S. expatriate parents.
"Had he been born of Mexican parents," the Republican hopeful said, "I'd have a better shot of winning this."
In 2008, Obama won 67 percent of the Latino vote, compared with 31 percent for his Republican rival, Arizona Sen. John McCain.
Up to now, Romney has concentrated, with relative success, on attacking the economic policies of Obama, because the economy is the most pressing issue in the country for everyone including Hispanics, according to surveys.
In the video leaked by an anonymous source, Romney acknowledges the challenge of persuading the more than 12 million Latinos to go to the polls and vote Republican.
"If the Hispanic voting bloc becomes as committed to the Democrats as the African-American voting bloc has in the past, why, we're in trouble as a party and, I think, as a nation," he told the campaign donors.
The statement, however, shows that he little understands why Hispanics are skeptical about him: it's not a problem of his last name, looks or accent, but of his policies, particularly to do with immigration.
During the primaries, Romney said he was opposed to the DREAM Act that would legalize undocumented students, praised Arizona's harsh SB 1070 immigration law as a model for the rest of the country, and prescribed "self-deportation" for undocumented immigrants.
In June, Romney reversed his position and said he would support reform that extends visas to skilled foreigners and that includes a guest worker program, among other measures. This is the new message he is presenting to Latino groups, as he did Monday in a speech to the national convention of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles.
Romney, who has been attacked for being too obscure about what he really believes, held an improvised press conference Monday night to defend himself after the appearance of the leaked video.
"It's not elegantly stated, let me put it that way," he said by way of explanation of his comments in Boca Raton. "I'm speaking off the cuff in response to a question, and I'm sure I can state it more clearly in a more effective way than I did in a setting like that and so I'm sure I'll point that out as time goes on."
"My campaign is about helping people take more responsibility and becoming employed again, particularly those who don't have work," Romney said, while characterizing Obama's approach as "His whole campaign is based on getting people jobs again, putting people back to work."
"This is ultimately a question about direction for the country. Do you believe in a government-centered society that provides more and more benefits or do you believe instead in a free enterprise society where people are able to pursue their dreams?," the Republican candidate said.
But the damage is done and the video in circulation contradicts the image Romney wishes to cultivate of a charitable man in tune with the real lives of average people.
At only 48 days from the general elections, the video is electoral dynamite. EFE