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Can Romney Win Over Latinos With His Education Platform?

with guest blogger Nirvi Shah

The same day presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney spoke to a group of Latino small businessmen and women about his education policy vision, a new poll showed that President Barack Obama has a solid lead over Romney among Latino voters.

Campaign 2012The results of the NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Telemundo poll showed that Obama holds a 34-point lead over Romney among registered Latino voters, 61 to 27 percent. In 2008, according to the exit polls, Obama defeated Sen. John McCain among this key voting bloc, 67 to 31 percent.

However Hector Barreto, chairman of the Latino Coalition, the group to which Romney spoke Tuesday, said afterwards that Romney's education proposals will resonate with the Latino community. The heart of Romney's proposal would make billions of dollars in federal funding for poor students and special education students "portable," and allow money to follow students into any school of their parents' choosing, including private schools.

"It's a critical issue in the Latino community for mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters," he said. "We've got to do something very dramatic," which is just what Romney proposed, singling out the Latino community as potential beneficiaries.

Politics K-12 blogger Alyson Klein astutely points out that Romney is the second consecutive presumptive presidential candidate for the GOP to roll out an education platform before a minority audience. Sen. McCain, R-Ariz., took a similar tack in 2008 when he pledged support for more access to school choice in a speech to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the nation's oldest civil rights organization.

I have no clue how long Romney had been planning to make his speech to the Latino Coalition all about education, but his team surely must have noticed these fresh poll results showing that education issues rank just under job creation and the economy for Latino voters, outstripping immigration issues. Of course, Romney uttered nothing about an education issue that he has proudly trumpeted in other campaign events—his high-profile support of the voter initiative that all but banned bilingual education in Massachusetts when he was governor.

Dring his speech, Romney also avoided addressing the DREAM Act—legislation that would give undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children a path to citizenship, as long as they enroll in college or in the military—which he has promised to veto if elected.

That prompted an undocumented immigrant from Peru, a college student named Lucy, to shout at him near the end of his talk.

Later in the day, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican who has emerged as a potential vice presidential running mate for Romney, spoke at the same Latino business gathering. Rubio has proposed a Republican version of the DREAM Act that offers children of undocumented immigrants visas, but not citizenship, if they attend college or serve in the military, but he also avoided mentioning the issue. And so far, Rubio has only talked about his alternative DREAM Act and has not actually introduced any legislation.

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