Tampa, Fla. – The rise of Latinos up the ranks of the Republican Party is momentous, but it’s not enough, said the head of a national group of conservative activists.
“Latinos need to get more involved and show up at the polls,” Al Cardenas, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, or ACU, told Fox News Latino.
The prominent Cuban American lawyer and advisor to presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney expressed concern about Latino voter turnout, but said he is ecstatic about the Republican National Convention speakers lineup that includes U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, U.S. Senate candidate Ted Cruz of Texas, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval.
“Listen, my heart is bursting with pride…we have never had a lineup like this,” he explained.
The Florida native believes that the GOP convention location in Tampa combined with communicating clearly Romney’s economic platform will spur Latino voter turnout -- particularly in the critical state of Florida.
Effectively making the argument that Romney's economic policies would be more successful that those of Obama's, Cardenas maintained, could win over diverse Latino groups such as Puerto Ricans and Cuban Americans.
“We have to appeal to every segment of the Latino community if we are going to be successful in Florida,” Cardenas said of the strategy to win over the battleground state.
The state -- where Latinos make up about a quarter of the population -- has roughly 1.5 million Hispanic voters.
George W. Bush won Florida in 2000 and again four years later, 52 percent to 47 percent, over Democrat John Kerry. But in 2008, the state sided with Democrats when Obama defeated Republican John McCain, 51 percent to 48 percent.
This year, the stakes are hard to overstate: Obama's re-election is nearly assured should he repeat his 2008 victory in Florida, based on how the states lean now.
This election year would seem a dream come true for Florida Democrats in their efforts to woo the state's growing Hispanic population. In the last four years, the number of registered Democrats in the state now outnumbers Republicans by more than 400,000, in large part because of the surge in Latino voters.
But despite these gains, the state Democratic Party is still struggling to attract Hispanic candidates and even voters. And with more than 2 million independent voters, that distance could hurt Obama's chances of repeating his 2008 win here.
Cardenas said business owners have felt particular hardship in the last few years.
“You go to any cafeteria, or local laundromat, and talk to the local owner, and he’ll tell you 'I can’t afford to pay these premiums, and the taxes are going up,'” said Cardenas. “They are besieged by government regulation…these are people who employ three or four people to feed their family.”
As for immigration, Cardenas feels that Obama should have sat down with Rubio, who was trying to gather bi-partisan support for a conservative version of the DREAM Act, a measure that would allow undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as minors a chance to legalize their status.
The momentum for Rubio's plan, which was never publicly released, waned after Obama announced a program that would give a two-year reprieve from deportation -- as well as the opportunity to apply for a work permit -- to immigrants who met a certain set of criteria.
“If he had gotten together with Marco Rubio we could have had a solution,” Cardenas said. Instead, “he has provided a temporary solution.”
Cardenas says it can take added effort to gain national Latino voter support for a candidate who is not from a state with a large Latino population like Florida.
“Mitt has to work harder being from Massachusetts,” Cardenas said.
“I think Latinos are going to warm up to him.”
Watch the full video interview above.
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