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Can the GOP, and Mitt Romney, reach Latino voters before it's too late?

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“I think he’s decided he’s going to deal with this issue as president and not as a candidate. And that’s probably smart politics frankly,” said former Senator and Republican National Committee Chairman Mel Martinez. Romney’s plan is “don’t talk about immigration, but somehow find a way to connect with Hispanic voters.”

During the 2012 cycle, Team Romney’s appeal to Latinos has been based on Romney’s economic program, emphasizing that the bloc ranks the economy as its top voting issue and that 10 percent of Latinos are unemployment, two percentage points above the national average.

What seems to be the best-case scenario for the Republican Party this time around is that Latinos, dispirited by Obama’s broken promise of immigration reform in his first year in office and hard-hit by the economy, simply stay home.

“This election is about economics, and these groups have been hit the hardest,” House Speaker John Boehner said at a lunch hosted by The Christian Science Monitor on Monday. “They may not show up to vote for our candidate, but I would suggest to you that they will not show up to vote for the president.”

Strategist Rove echoed those remarks earlier the same day, predicting that the 2012 cycle could see flat to declining Latino voters “for the first time in modern history” because of a lack of enthusiasm.

Pointed rhetoric on immigration

But Romney and the Republican Party face serious challenges to closing the gap with Latinos that aren’t going to be fixed this cycle. A vocal portion of the party’s base remains steadfast in supporting policies and rhetoric that Hispanics find offensive.

That was on display during the primary when Romney used immigration issues – such as criticizing Texas Gov. Rick Perry for allowing illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition – to score points with conservative Republicans like Ruby Robinson of Brunswick, Ga.

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