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Long IslandPolitics

Mitt Romney, GOP must woo women, Hispanics: LI delegates

The crowd welcomes Ann Romney as she is

The crowd welcomes Ann Romney as she is introduced to give her speech at Tuesday night's National Republican Convention in Tampa Bay, Fl. (Aug. 28, 2012) Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

TAMPA -- School Principal Linda Green of Port Washington is one of four women -- all of them alternate delegates, who don't cast votes -- among the 27 Long Islanders in the New York delegation here at the Republican National Convention.

Brookhaven Town Republican chairman Jesse Garcia is one of two Hispanics from Long Island, both alternates.

New York, like most states, sent a largely white, male delegation to a convention that is trying hard to reach out to the female and Hispanic voters it needs to elect Mitt Romney president in the fall.

This year, the GOP convention aims to change its appearance by stacking its list of speakers with women and Hispanic governors, lawmakers and business people. Thursday night, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio will introduce Romney for his acceptance speech, two days after Romney's wife, Ann, appeared as the convention's first major speaker.

"The Republican Party has had a problem with being the party of middle-aged white men," GOP pollster Michael Dawidziak of Bohemia said.

It's undergoing a necessary transition, said Nassau County GOP chairman Joseph Mondello, who argued the party must do a better job of reaching out to Hispanics, the country's fastest-growing group with an estimated 12.2 million voters.

But Mondello and Green, a former North Hempstead Town clerk, said the GOP doesn't need a policy change as much as a sales job. "We have to hammer away on the economy," Mondello said. Green added, "Economics are the overriding theme of this election."

The outreach is crucial for Romney, who trails President Barack Obama among women 42 percent to 50 percent and among Hispanics 29 percent to 61 percent, according to the latest Gallup Poll.

Women and Hispanics gain even more importance for Romney in the seven to 10 battleground states expected to determine the election, especially in the must-win state of Florida.

Former New York Gov. George Pataki underscored the issue Wednesday at a breakfast here for the New York and Puerto Rican delegations.

Speaking in English and Spanish, Pataki said, "Some of the most important votes will be the 800,000 Puerto Rican votes here in Florida."

Rhetoric and policy put Republicans at a disadvantage with women and Hispanics.

The controversial remarks of Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri about "legitimate rape," although quickly condemned by Romney, and a GOP platform plank against all abortion give Democrats an attack point.

And the harsh rhetoric about illegal Mexican immigrants during the GOP primaries lingers.

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), a foe of illegal immigration, said it's important to woo Hispanics, but not by changing policy. "There are Hispanics who we can appeal to on a conservative Republican basis," he said.

In her speech, Ann Romney succeeded in solidifying support from women such as Green, who's the same age, has children, and, like the Romneys, has been married for 43 years.

"She touched us personally," said Green, principal of P.S. 175 in Rego Park, Queens.

But married women already back Romney, a Quinnipiac Poll found. It's unmarried women who support Obama.

It's not clear Ann Romney reached them, though Green is hopeful she did.

"If I were 25 years old, educated and had a decent job, I would want to have an economy that's viable," she said.

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