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Spanish-language media ‘obsessed’ on immigration issue

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TAMPA, Fla. — For most voters, the Republicans' nominating convention has been filled with speeches about jobs, the economy, federal spending and President Obama's record. But for Hispanic voters getting their news from the Spanish-language press, the view is very different — and decidedly unsympathetic to the Republican Party.

Heading into the convention, English-language coverage of last week's platform fights concentrated on abortion and gay marriage. But Spanish-language reports zeroed in on an immigration battle, which saw Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach win passage of a strict enforcement plank in the document.

While the English press this week has wondered about which Republicans would mention Medicare, and who would play the attack-dog role for the GOP, Spanish-language media have been focused on what hasn't been addressed: immigration.

"The questions are, ‘Yeah, let's talk about the economy, let's talk about Medicare. But then why haven't they talked about immigration?'" asked Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, who made the rounds of Spanish-language press in Tampa. "All the Spanish-language media is obsessed, focused, on that issue."

That is not good news for Mitt Romney, whose position — the strictest enforcement stance of any major political party nominee in history — does not go over well with Hispanic voters.

Meanwhile, Mr. Obama has taken steps, including his recent non-deportation policy, that have helped erase criticism from immigration rights advocates.

It's not just immigration where the coverage differs, Spanish-language media-watchers said.

Univision and Telemundo, the two dominant broadcast networks, as well as other outlets, put heavy emphasis on education. They extensively cover health care and Mr. Obama's law, which is poised to extend coverage to as many as 9 million Hispanics.

Hispanics are a growing political force and considered one of the key swing voting blocs.

They also have their own powerful niche press and — given language barriers for those who don't speak English well — many of them amount to a captive audience for Spanish-language media.

Both presidential campaigns are trying to tap into that audience with outreach ads, and the Republicans have taken steps at their convention this week in Tampa to make inroads as well.

Emilio Gonzalez, former head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services under the Bush administration, who is now a Republican strategist and a consultant to Univision, said the convention is sending a subtle but powerful message to Hispanic voters by featuring so many powerful Hispanic Republicans.

"One thing is what they are seeing, and the other is what the Republican Party is trying to project. What the Democratic Party is trying to portray is a party in search of a message for Hispanics," Mr. Gonzalez said. "What the Republican Party is trying to project — look at the lineup. All the rock stars are Hispanic."

He pointed to appearances from Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and Texas Senate candidate Ted Cruz — all Republicans who he said proudly embraced the party's message of making it on their own.

Indeed, those personal stories resonated with Hispanic delegates to the convention.

"Certainly, I believe that when we listened to the story of Susana Martinez, it touched the heart of many people because this is a hardworking woman who has been able to become the first Hispanic woman as the governor of New Mexico," said Adryana Boyne, who was part of the Texas delegation.

She also pointed to Mr. Cruz, who told of his father coming from Cuba with $100 sewn in his underwear and a determination not to accept welfare, but to instead make it on his own.

"Just incredible testimonies to let the people know that we don't need the help of the government, what we need is opportunities," she said.

Democrats counter that those Republicans have all embraced tight immigration rules that don't sit well with Hispanic voters. They also say Mr. Romney's stance is so well-known in the Hispanic community that the question is no longer will Hispanics vote for him, but rather whether he's permanently damaged the GOP brand.

But Mr. Aguilar said the GOP is not monolithic on immigration, and that battle played out even on the convention stage.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki R. Haley talked about her state's battle to enact a strict immigration law, which the Obama administration opposed. But on the same stage, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made an appeal for immigration laws that "show that we are a compassionate nation of immigrants."

Ms. Rice's remarks were met with steady applause, and Mr. Aguilar said those sorts of moments are beginning to break through.

"It seems to me that the Spanish-language media, I think some are starting to become more aware of the battle," Mr. Aguilar said. "Some of them are starting to perhaps explain better what is going on."

He also said Mr. Romney does have a message that could reach Hispanics, if he emphasizes his pledge to take action on reforming legal-immigration procedures.

Paige Winfield Cunningham contributed to this report.

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