Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Craig Romney is on the campaign trail for his father, Mitt, and the youngest of the GOP presidential nominee’s five sons has a focused mission.
While members of former Republican administrations and GOP politicians are serving as surrogates for Mitt Romney in terms of sharing policy objectives, Craig Romney is, to use a pollster’s term, his father’s “likability” surrogate.
“I’m here today as an ambassador for my dad,” Craig Romney told a crowd of about 40 people Wednesday at the Greater Las Vegas Association of Realtors office. “I’m here today to listen to your concerns, to hear the issues that are important to you and bring those back to my dad. ... I’m not a policy expert by any means, but thankfully I’m joined today by two policy experts. ... If you want to hear some personal stuff about my dad, that’s my job. I love to tell stories about my dad.“
Craig Romney was joined by Hector Barreto, former administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration under President George W. Bush, and current U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, who tackled the policy questions at the event, which was billed by the campaign as a Hispanic small-business dialogue.
Yet, while Barreto and Labrador may have more of substance to say when it comes to governing the country, polls indicate Craig Romney’s role in the campaign tour is more important.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll released Tuesday indicated voters found President Barack Obama more likable than Mitt Romney by 50 percent to 30 percent. Of the nearly 1,500 registered voters interviewed online for the survey, 41 percent said they believed Obama “understands people like me” while 28 percent said the same about Romney. As for the big issue of this year’s race, the sputtering economy, 75 percent of respondents said it was on the wrong track.
Tuesday at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro continued a common thread in Democratic attacks on Mitt Romney, suggesting the former Massachusetts governor was out of touch with everyday Americans.
“(Romney) just has no idea how good he’s had it,” Castro said.
Craig Romney fought back against the portrayal of his father as a multimillionaire businessman far removed from the concerns and issues of the middle class.
“It’s amazing this picture that people have painted of my dad,” he said. “They’ve demonized him as some sort of evil businessman, and it couldn’t be further from the truth. He is a man of great compassion, integrity, faith and honesty. He’s in this race because he wants to make sure this country is great for your children, for your grandchildren and for all future generations.”
Craig Romney said his entire family was involved in the campaign to elect his father, and because he picked up Spanish while living in Chile for a few years, he had been conscripted into delivering his father’s message to Hispanic voters. Mitt Romney has a Hispanic coalition dubbed Juntos con Romney (Together with Romney) and a Spanish-language website. Craig taped a Spanish-language ad for his father’s campaign to coincide with the launch of the website.
A Mitt Romney supporter in the crowd, Waldo De Castroverde, said he agreed with the speakers’ assertion that Obama had failed to do enough to revive the economy or achieve comprehensive immigration reform, but he called on the GOP to reach out to Hispanics.
“The reality is that the Democrats have been more successful in getting the Hispanic vote, and we need to learn from the lesson of 2010,” De Castroverde said, referencing U.S. Sen. Harry Reid’s victory over Republican Sharron Angle, who vilified immigrants in some of her campaign ads. “The main reason that (Reid) won was because the Republican candidate adopted an anti-immigrant position. We need to tell the Hispanic community that we are going to complete immigration reform that is reasonable and just, and we also need to remind them that the greatest amnesty — and amnesty is a dirty word now — was done by Ronald Reagan, who was a Republican and a conservative.”
After the Republican National Convention, an ImpreMedia/Latino Decision poll showed Romney had seen a boost among Hispanic voters, claiming support of 30 percent of the demographic after polling at 26 percent before the convention.
Labrador, a first-term U.S. representative who was born in Puerto Rico, graduated from high school in Las Vegas and now lives in Idaho, likened Mitt Romney to Reagan.
“One person can make a difference; one person can actually change the way a country feels about itself. I believe Ronald Reagan did that, and I believe that Mitt Romney will once again do that for the United States. ... (Mitt Romney) believes firmly that government needs to get out of the way,” Labrador said, arguing that Obama has not strengthened the economy and has promoted excessive government interference that hinders business.
Felipe Vazquez, a Las Vegas restaurant owner, countered the GOP arguments at the behest of the local Obama campaign. Vazquez opened his restaurant, La Majorra Loca, in 2008 and opened a second location, where he says business is strong, a few months ago.
“The economy was horrible when Obama became president, and he has done a lot to stabilize things and make improvements,” Vazquez said in Spanish. “I think he has provided opportunities for people in terms of work and education, which will only make things better. We were losing jobs before he became president, and now we’ve had some job growth. The more jobs, the better it is for me and everyone.”
While much of the conversation at the small-business dialogue revolved around immigration policies and the economy in general, one small-business owner expressed a specific concern.
Omar Lopez, a real estate broker, said he had encountered difficulty finding job candidates who had the education or skills to work as receptionists, and he asked the panel what could be done to improve education and prepare people for jobs.
“We are for the students first, the teachers second, and the unions can wait in third place because a lot of the reform we want to do is sometimes blocked by those unions and not all the teachers agree with that,” Barreto said. “We want to give parents more choice. You know, if you have the opportunity to send your kid to a better school, why should you be stuck in a school that’s failing them?”
Lopez said he was a registered Democrat but came to the event not as a partisan but as someone generally concerned with the path the country is headed down and curious about Mitt Romney’s solutions.
“I haven’t decided yet who I will vote for,” Lopez said after the event. “I want specifics from Romney. If you have a business, you have a business plan. Otherwise, your business will fail. I want to know what his plan is to not only improve the economy but prepare our students for jobs. Nevada ranks 50th in education, and teachers are buying school supplies out of their own small salaries. What is the plan?”