The New York Times: Ex-Senator Criticizes Republicans’ Tone on Immigration

August 29th, 2012

The New York Times
August 29, 2012
By ADAM NAGOURNEY

 

 

 

TAMPA, Fla. – Mel Martinez is a former United States Senator from Florida, served as chairman of the Republican Party under President George W. Bush, and is one of the highest-level Hispanic Republicans in public life. So it was striking on Wednesday morning to hear him speak starkly about his party’s problems with Latino voters after a primary season in which all the candidates stressed measures that would severely curb immigration

“We went through a tough period of time when the primary did the exact opposite of what we needed to be doing,” Mr. Martinez said, “which polarized the electorate in a terrible way.”

“I think the tone has been wrong,” he said. “And I think the tone in the primary really did a lot of damage.”

Mr. Martinez stopped short of criticizing Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, for his own rhetoric on the subject, and acknowledged that Mr. Romney had largely avoided the issue since winning the nomination. “In my view he has decided he is going to deal with this issue as president, and not as a candidate,” he said. “And I think that’s probably smart politics. But I still think he needs to reach out to Hispanics.”

He said Mr. Romney should talk about immigration, but not get pulled into the details of a difficult debate during the campaign. “The immigration issue is too difficult to deal with in a public contest,” he said, speaking on a panel on the Republican Party and Latino voters sponsored by National Journal, Univision News and ABC News.

“Tomorrow night is about winning an election,” Mr. Martinez said of Mr. Romney’s acceptance speech. “What I would have him say is, have him speak to Hispanics in the country about what he is going to do about jobs in this country.”

Mr. Martinez noted that his former boss, Mr. Bush, had done particularly well with Latino voters. He said part of that was because Mr. Bush was from Texas, a border state. But there was something else.

“He got more mileage out of the Spanish he knew that anyone else I have ever known,” he said.

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