Can Romney Keep Arizona Red?

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney Friday addressed a meeting of Republican state chairmen in Scottsdale, Ariz. — a state that President Obama's advisers believe could be within reach for Democrats. NPR's Ted Robbins reports.

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. The Republican campaign for president literally heated up yesterday. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, the likely nominee, was in the Phoenix area. He addressed a rally of sun-soaked supporters, a meeting of Republican state chairmen and a group of Hispanic leaders. Now, in the moment, we'll hear more about how Republicans plan to reach out to Hispanic voters this election season. First, NPR's Ted Robbins has this report.

MITT ROMNEY: Thank you, thank you.

TED ROBBINS, BYLINE: Meeting in blessed air conditioning at the Fairmont Princess Resort in Scottsdale, Republican Party chairmen and their staffers warmly welcomed Mitt Romney.

ROMNEY: Well, it's good to see so many old friends. Thank you.

ROBBINS: The party loyalists gave him a full minute standing ovation. Now, it's time to win over others. First, the Republican rank and file. Mississippi Chair Joe Nosef thinks Romney can convince them.

JOE NOSEF: Rick Santorum won Mississippi - very tight margin - but Rick Santorum did win. But at the same time, Mississippi Republicans are much, much more interested in having somebody other than President Obama than they are about any issues coming off the primaries.

ROBBINS: Next, the Republicans want to hold onto states like Arizona, where the Obama campaign is investing money trying to turn it blue. The last Republican nominee, Arizona Senator John McCain, says the party can keep it red.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: I'm telling you, the state of Arizona - don't worry - will be for Mitt Romney this November.

ROBBINS: The party would like to get voters who don't normally vote republican, like most Hispanics. This week, the GOP announced new Hispanic outreach directors in six states. Arizona isn't one of them; Colorado is. That state's executive party director Chuck Poplstein says the main GOP message - stronger economic growth - appeals to Hispanics the same as everyone else.

CHUCK POPLSTEIN: You know, the Hispanic community's been hit hard by the jobs and the economy as well. And that message is going to resonate with them.

ROBBINS: That's what Romney heard from a group of Hispanic leaders he met with later, big fans blowing around them in the warm lobby of the Arizona historical society in Tempe.

MANNY MOLINA: I'm very interested in your perspective on what it's like being in business in Arizona, small business in particular.

ROBBINS: Manny Molina owns a billboard and publishing company which he says has gone from 50 employees down to about five since 2008.

MOLINA: Biggest challenge we've had is there isn't really any funding out there for small businesses. Banks will say they're lending...

ROBBINS: Romney also asked for and got an earful on immigration from Peoria, Arizona City Councilman Tony Rivero.

TONY RIVERO: I think in order to solve the problem once and for all, you have to look at it in a comprehensive way.

ROMNEY: Any suggestions that you have in that regard?

RIVERO: Yes, and I put it together and handed the document to you so you would consider it.


ROBBINS: Romney then went outside for an afternoon rally in the blazing heat.

ROMNEY: Someone back there is in front of a fan that's blowing nice cool air. That's absolutely amazing. You guys - you're all fans. I appreciate that. Thank you. You guys are the best...

ROBBINS: Romney's speech focused on the economy and preserving military spending, which is exactly what Republican voter Kevin Kelly came to hear.

KEVIN KELLY: I believe in strong defense and a strong economy. So, those are the two primary issues for me.

ROBBINS: But Romney can't win in November only appealing to Republicans like Kelly. He needs voters like Joel O'Connell. And she wants him to move toward the center.

JOEL O'CONNELL: He's not going to bring the country together by kowtowing to the real right-wing conservatives that like Santorum.

ROBBINS: O'Connell says she voted for Obama in 2008, but she's ready to switch, she says, if Romney convinces her he is the centrist she thinks he really is. Ted Robbins, NPR News.

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