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Romney's challenge: What Bexar County's primaries could tell America about the anti-Mormon vote

Photo: Photo illustration by Chuck Kerr, License: N/A

Photo illustration by Chuck Kerr

Photo: Steven Gilmore, License: N/A

Steven Gilmore

A new Mormon temple being constructed on Talley Road.

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During Romney's first whistle stop in San Antonio at the end of March, Latino activists staged demonstrations outside his Pearl Brewery event to voice support for the DREAM Act, a bill that outlines a path to temporary and later permanent residency for aliens brought to the U.S. as children, conditioned on completing four years in college or two in the military. They were joined by State Representative Joaquín Castro and former U.S. Representative Ciro Rodriguez. Romney has pledged to veto the bill, given the opportunity. It's a Republican nightmare: The DREAM Act is favored by absolute majorities among Democrat, Republican, and Independent Hispanics alike.

Obama, too, has disappointed on immigration reform by awarding it low priority (while simultaneously deporting record numbers of undocumented foreign nationals). But Romney and most leading Republicans reject not only the DREAM Act, but any hope of normalizing irregular migration statuses. "I very firmly believe that we have to make sure that we enforce our borders, that we have an employment verification system, and that those people who have come here illegally do not get an advantage to become permanent residents, they do not get a special pathway," Romney said recently.

By alienating Hispanic Catholics, the likely Republican candidate almost certainly loses both the Latino vote and the overall Catholic swing vote. White, conservative Catholics are now firmly a minority within this swing bloc.

So Romney finds himself lodged between a rock and hard place from which he cannot extract himself without sawing off his arm. To a greater or lesser extent, his religion will dampen his erstwhile core support among Protestant Christians, and nobody would expect him to renounce his faith in order to improve his electoral odds: that would be the ultimate waffle. But because the Republican Party has suffered a palace coup by cultural warriors like Santorum, Romney has been forced in the primary to tack hard to the right, veering away from his moderate record and thus repelling potential Catholic and Latino supporters.

Romney will backpedal frantically toward the moderate median in the general election, but drastic policy reversals will only cement criticism that the former Massachusetts governor is a policy chameleon, disingenuous and lacking conviction.

While sifting through the Bexar County primary data at the end of May, it won't matter much how well Romney did against Gingrich or Paul. Instead, campaign mavens will be looking to see just how poorly Romney fared with the conservative Bible Belt base on one hand, and, on the other, if he garnered enough Hispanic GOP support to have a prayer of approaching the 40-percent Latino vote threshold in the general election. Chances are he ain't got snowball's chance in the Outer Darkness. •

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