VIVIANA HURTADO, HOST:
This is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. I'm Viviana Hurtado. Michel Martin is away. She's visiting Syracuse University and member station WRVO is Oswego, New York. Still to come, we take a look at some of the political upheaval in the Middle East. As another deadline has come and gone, the violence continues in Syria. More on that in a few minutes.
But first, the political picture in this country cleared up a bit yesterday when Rick Santorum dropped out of the presidential race. The focus is already shifting to the likely match up between President Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Polls show Mr. Obama is ahead at this very early stage of the game, and a lot of that lead can be traced to women and minority voters.
Some observers say that's because of a bruising primary fight that brought issues like reproductive rights, religion and immigration to the forefront of the debate. But Mitt Romney is already turning his focus to economic issues. Here he is yesterday at a campaign speech after Rick Santorum pulled out of the race.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
MITT ROMNEY: There's been some talk about a war on women. The real war on women has been waged by the Obama administration's failure on the economy.
HURTADO: Joining me now to talk about the very likely Republican nominee is Mario Loyola. He's with the Texas Public Policy Foundation. That's a conservative think tank. He also writes for The National Review. And I'm also joined by Janice Crouse. She's with Concerned Women for America. She was a speechwriter for President George H. W. Bush. Thank you both for joining us.
JANICE CROUSE: My pleasure.
MARIO LOYOLA: Great to be with you.
HURTADO: And Janice, we're going to start with you. As I mentioned, Mitt Romney is trailing badly with women voters. A new ABC News-Washington Post poll shows women favor President Obama over Romney by a margin of 57 to 38 percent. Why do you think that is?
CROUSE: Well, I think it's the preemptive strike of the Obama administration and the Democrats in general. They've been very, very smart in strategy to focus on their so-called war on women, and that has really played very well with the public during this time of economic recession, that 76 percent of the country say we are in a recession.
I think it's a very short-term gain, and I think it's a very bad strategy because it's going to turn on them, as Romney showed in his clip that you just showed. He's interested in the economy. And in the four years that we have had $1 trillion deficits, all four times, they've been under the Obama administration.
So the president is trying to run away from that record. He's trying to change the subject into a war on women. But I think now that there is a candidate for the presidency from the GOP, the GOP will focus on the economy, and there's no getting away from it. You know, I just went to the grocery store, Viviana, last night, and I was shocked once again. Everything that I typically buy was 5 to 10 percent higher than it was last week.
That's just astounding to me, and of course everybody knows the gas prices are going up. Those are the kinds of things that are going to play in this election.
HURTADO: Janice, is Mitt Romney the choice for conservative Republican women?
CROUSE: Well, he definitely will be now, now that Santorum is out of the picture. Democrat - the conservatives will rally around Romney. There's no question about that. When it comes to a choice between the very liberal policies that President Obama has pushed and the policies of Mitt Romney, they will go with Romney.
Mitt Romney is not an ideologue. You know, the conservatives wanted a conservative movement conservative. I think when it comes right down to it, the way he lives his life, Romney is a conservative person, but he has focused in his career on problem-solving, particularly in terms of economy and management kinds of decisions.
And when he looks at what's wrong with America, that's what he sees. And I think it would be up to us as conservatives to show him that many of the economic problems that we face in this country have their roots in the social issues - for instance, the single parent problem in this country, where 41 percent of our children are being born out of wedlock without a father in the picture. This has very definite economic ramifications, very dramatic ones for all of us, because the costs of entitlements are going up just outrageously.
HURTADO: And, Mario, Mario Loyola, we're going to turn to you. Latino voters came out at nearly a two-to-one margin for the president in 2008, and most polls now show President Obama beating Mitt Romney by even wider margins. I want to play a clip of an answer Mitt Romney gave at an Arizona debate back in February about that state's tough immigration law. Here it is.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE)
JOHN KING: What about arresting? Should there be aggressive seek them out, find them and arrest them as Sheriff Arpiao advocates?
ROMNEY: You know, I think you see a model here in Arizona. They passed a law here that says that people who come here and try and find work, that the employer is required to look them up on eVerify.
HURTADO: And it's important to note that Mitt Romney has sort of backed off of these remarks later in the campaign, certainly around the time right before the Wisconsin, District of Columbia and Maryland primaries. Mario, there have been rumblings even of a GOP Dream Act - and it's just that, rumblings - as well, that could give legal status to some illegal immigrant students.
Is there something like that now between now and November that could help swing Latino voters to the GOP side without alienating the GOP base?
LOYOLA: Well, let's go back to what Governor Romney said there, which was actually quite subtle. The eVerify program that Arizona instituted in 2006 is an entirely different approach than SB1070, which focuses on police powers, in which the Hispanic media, Univision and so forth reported on as terrorizing the Hispanic community. That was SB1070. That's not what Romney's talking about.
What Romney's talking about goes really to the heart of the economic incentive to illegal immigrants, which is that they think they can find jobs here, and so they come here. And the eVerify law makes it very difficult for you to get a job if you're an illegal immigrant. It basically forces you to engage in identify theft.
And there's anecdotal evidence to suggest that the illegal immigrant population in Arizona has gone down by a third because of the eVerify law that they passed in 2006. And so what he's - and that approach, by the way, is not so divisive, because for legal Hispanic immigrants, legal Hispanic immigrants are at a competitive disadvantage to illegal immigrants when it comes to looking for jobs, and - for the obvious reason that, you know, an employer who's willing to cut corners can pay illegal immigrants much less for the same labor. And eVerify doesn't terrorize the Hispanic community in the same way that some of these police - expanded police powers laws do.
And so I think that the eVerify approach - there's no reason for Governor Romney to back off that approach. It's a very good approach. It's a good - it's an approach that will find lots of support in - especially the part of the Hispanic community that votes. And Senator Rubio has been talking about a GOP Dream Act that I think is also promising, as well.
I mean, it wouldn't open up a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, but it would legalize the status of, you know, kids that came here with their parents and shields them from some of the penalties...
HURTADO: But doesn't it - but Mario, doesn't it also leave them in limbo? I mean, what's going to happen after they serve in the military or after they go to university? What happens next?
LOYOLA: Well, they - under the scheme, as I understand it, as it's been proposed so far in outline, the idea is that they would be able to - they would have the same opportunity to apply - to seek residency, green card, and so forth as anybody trying to get to the United States, but they wouldn't have to leave the country to do it.
HURTADO: If you're just joining...
LOYOLA: And in the meantime, they could study and work and so forth.
HURTADO: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. I'm speaking with two conservative political observers. Mario Loyola, who just heard from, writes for the National Review, and Janice Crouse is with Concerned Women for America. So we were talking a little bit about Mitt Romney's strengths.
Janice was able to talk about the economy, focus on that. But critics say the president and Mitt Romney have both struggled connecting with the working class. Janice, what do you make of Mitt Romney's gaffes - for lack of a better word there - and how can he connect with the middle class during the election season?
CROUSE: Well, I think, number one, he has to focus on the fact that he has lived the American dream. This is a man who's earned his money himself. He didn't inherit it. He has been an exemplary steward of his money. I'm a great believer in looking at how people spend their money to evaluate their character, and I've been pleasantly surprised at how Mitt Romney spends his money. He gives away an enormous amount of money. He tithes to his church. Those are disciplines that I think reflect character and I think they're the kinds of things that he could use to advantage in connecting with the middle class because middle class people like to believe in the American dream. They like to believe that people can make it by effort.
And I think the middle class also really admires someone who's a strong family man, someone who's a success, as well as being a strong family man. And Mitt Romney does both of those things, so I think if he focuses on those things, he will earn really good points with the middle class.
HURTADO: And Mario, speaking of connecting with the middle class, can you talk to us? What should Mitt Romney look for in a VP? Any guesses? And if you can keep it as brief as possible.
LOYOLA: Well, I mean I think he's got to look to someone who can be a conservative leader who can help rally the base and help win over moderates. I think the two leading candidates for that nomination right now are probably Senator Rubio and Congressman Paul Ryan. And I think that, you know, conservatives have a lot of reason to be really hopeful when it comes to the VP slot.
HURTADO: And how about any women choices for VP?
LOYOLA: I hadn't given that any thought. I think that Paul Ryan, in this generation, at this time, and the new crop of conservative leaders, it's Senator Rubio and Paul Ryan.
HURTADO: Janice, anybody? Maybe like Nikki Haley, governor of South Carolina?
CROUSE: I think she's a very excellent choice. She does...
HURTADO: And she's on book tour.
CROUSE: Right, exactly. I think he does have to steer a very careful boat through the rapids in choosing his VP candidate. There are a number of women, like Michele Bachmann, who come to mind, who would very definitely be a great candidate, but they also bring with them the identification with the right wing branch of the party and that sector of the party and I think would carry some damage, would cause some damage to his candidacy. So I think along with your other guest that Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio right now are the two top people.
HURTADO: Janice Crouse is with Concerned Women for America and she's a former presidential speech writer for President George H.W. Bush. She was here in our D.C. studio. And Mario Loyola is with the Texas Public Policy Foundation. He also writes for the National Review and he joined us from Austin, Texas.
Thank you both so much for joining us.
CROUSE: My pleasure.
LOYOLA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.