By Kevin Liptak, CNN
(CNN) – Mitt Romney – who, according to polls, faces a sizeable deficit among Latinos – needs to find better ways to make connections with those key voters, former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Wednesday.
Speaking on CNN’s “John King, USA,” Gonzales, a Republican, said Romney’s past statements about policies affecting Latinos, including his policy of “self-deportation,” will be hard for him to reverse.
“That will be a challenge for Gov. Romney,” Gonzales said. The full interview will air Wednesday at 6 p.m. ET on CNN. “He has to make some kind of personal connection with the Hispanic community. Gov. Bush believed in the rule of law, tougher workplace enforcement, in border security, but he was able to make a personal connection. It may have been because of his experience as a border governor. We’ll have to wait and see if Gov. Romney can make the same kind of personal connection.”
Latino voters are considered key to winning the 2012 presidential election since they make up an increasing large chunk of the American electorate. They also represent a significant part of the population in several important swing states, including Florida, Nevada and Colorado.
In 2008, Latino voters went for President Barack Obama over Sen. John McCain 67%-31%. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Telemundo poll released at the end of last week indicated Obama still has the support of a majority of Latino voters, with 61% of registered Latino voters saying they support Obama and 27% backing Romney.
Romney has spoken out on immigration issues at various points in the Republican primary process, often finding himself at odds with more moderate voices within his own party. In December, Romney said he would veto the DREAM act, a measure that would offer a path to citizenship for minors in the country illegally, providing they served in the armed forces or attended college.
At a debate in January, Romney said he was in favor of “self-deportation,” a policy that involves making economic conditions so difficult for undocumented workers that they choose to leave the country to find better opportunities.
Gonzales said Wednesday that policy wouldn’t help the presumptive GOP nominee with Hispanic voters.
“That’s not going to be something that resonates with the Latino community,” Gonzales said. “The Latino community is going to respond to the notion that we are a country of laws, the rule of law. So border security is important. But also the message has to reflect the realization that this is a country of immigrants, and that people come to this country for a better life.”
Gonzales, who served as Bush’s attorney general from 2005-2007, said Wednesday that Romney’s past statements on immigration and border security will matter less than what he’s saying when ballots are cast.
“As we get closer to the election, people will listen to what Gov. Romney is saying,” Gonzales said. “And I’m heartened by the fact that he now understands that it now does makes sense, and I think it would be important for the Hispanic community, if he supports some kind of legislation that puts these children, innocent children, in some kind of legal status.”
In April, Gonzales told CNN he didn’t think Florida Sen. Marco Rubio would be a smart choice for Romney’s VP. He reiterated that point Wednesday.
“He’s extremely talented, and I honor his service,” Gonzales said. “But I think the job of president, and I’ve seen it firsthand, how hard it can be. And how important it is to have someone of wisdom. Wisdom comes from experience, it comes from living, it comes from success, it comes from failure. And I just think the country needs to have people in positions of leadership who have that experience.”