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As Rick Perry’s campaign gains momentum, a jittery Mitt Romney has attempted to target the issue most likely to be his opponent’s weakness: immigration.
Speaking to Republican Hispanics in Tampa, Romney said that “we must stop providing the incentives that promote illegal immigration.” He reminded his audience that, as governor, he vetoed legislation to provide in-state tuition to illegal immigrants and worked to make it easier for state troopers to enforce immigration laws.
Although Romney did not mention Perry by name, it was clear he had the Texas governor in his sights. In 2001, Perry signed a version of the “Dream Act” that allowed illegal aliens to obtain in-state tuition. And although he calls for a crackdown on illegal immigration, he shows little enthusiasm for Arizona-style legislation.
The issue of illegal immigration has become a hot button issue for the GOP in recent years, which presents the party with something of a problem as they attempt to woo Hispanic voters. In the run-up to the last election, Mitt Romney took a hard line on immigration and, as a result, he won just nine percent of Florida’s Cuban vote and twenty-one percent of the non-Cuban Hispanic vote in the Florida Republican primary.
In recent remarks to the Republican National Hispanic Assembly, Romney said that he was “a great proponent of legal immigration.” “Many of you are living proof of the unique strength of America that is constantly renewed by new Americans,” he added.
Romney’s attack comes as a recent poll by Magellan Strategies shows Perry with a five-point advantage among Republicans in Nevada, a state that backed Romney in the last election. Romney has also come under sustained attack from certain elements of the Tea Party.
Many Tea Partiers view him as ideologically suspect because he signed Massachusetts’ 2006 health care reform, a law that provided inspiration for President Obama’s own health care reforms. Consequently, some of their activists have taken to protesting Romney’s attendance at conservative functions and are actively working to undermine his campaign in battleground states.
However, this opposition has set off something of an internal struggle within the Tea Party movement, as many local groups object to the idea of outsiders coming in and telling them who to support.
In a belated bid to court Tea Party votes, Romney will address some of its members in New Hampshire on Sunday, September 4. The next day, he will take part in gathering hosted by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), a prominent supporter of the Tea Party.