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Why is the Romney Campaign Denying Running Anti-Immigration Ads?

If you’re waiting for the Romney campaign’s “etch a sketch” moment on immigration, it seems to have quietly arrived.

Last week I had a revealing email exchange with a Romney advisor. I had written an item about Mitt Romney’s trouble with the Latino vote and referred to an anti-immigration advertisement from the Romney camp. A few days later, I got an email from an advisor to the Romney campaign, letting me know that I’d mistakenly referred to a Romney ad that ran during the 2007-2008 cycle. He explained that this has been a minor recurring problem because, for some reason, the YouTube videos of some of Romney’s old TV advertising spots have been incorrectly labeled with 2012.

But in the email, he also wrote something that surprised me: that Romney hadn’t run any ads on illegal immigration in the 2012 cycle. This immediately struck me as false—I clearly remember a Romney video last September that attacked Rick Perry for his defense of Texas’s policy of giving in-state college tuition to children of illegal immigrants. The ad raised eyebrows because it included a clip of Mexico’s former president, Vicente Fox, praising Governor Perry for the policy, implying that any support from the Mexican president, who is our ally, was somehow sinister. But when I reminded him about the video, the advisor clarified that it was a web video—not a television spot. This seems like splitting hairs, but is, I suppose, technically true. Fair enough, I guess.

What the exchange reflected, though, was a real—and justified—concern in the Romney camp: that the candidate’s anti-immigration rhetoric last fall will ruin his chance with Latinos this November. A Pew poll in April showed that Romney is at a significant disadvantage with Latino registered voters. Only 27 percent supported him, compared with the 67 percent supporting Obama. (For context, McCain secured 31 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2008, and the magic number generally thought necessary to win the presidency is 40 percent.) Romney didn’t help things by taking a hardline stance on immigration during the primary, promising to veto the Dream Act if elected president and advocating for a border fence

The fact that a Romney campaign advisor took the time to call out my mistake—and labored to remind me that there had been no television ads on illegal immigration in the 2012 cycle—shows just how sensitive the campaign is to any reminders of Romney’s anti-immigration rhetoric during the primary. And as the Republicans continue to court Latino voters, we’re going to see a lot more of these efforts to backtrack—though they probably won’t all be clumsy as this TV-web distinction.