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Romney needs strategy to win Hispanic votes

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Mitt Romney has a problem with Hispanics.

The presumptive Republican nominee trails President Barack Obama among Hispanic voters by more than 2-1, a deficit large enough to cost him the presidency as it did John McCain four years ago.

Some of his problem comes with the Republican brand, from his own tough talk on illegal immigration during the Republican primaries. Either way, Romney has to find a way to close the gap or lose. Among the options: a conservative version of immigration reform, a Hispanic running mate and plenty of grassroots courting.

"It's the most important swing voter group in the country," Republican pollster Whit Ayres said.

Republicans tend to win the majority of Anglos, but Anglos are shrinking as a percentage of the country while Hispanics surge.

Ayres noted that in 2008, McCain won the same percentage of the Anglo vote as Ronald Reagan did in 1980. But Anglos represented 88 percent of the vote in 1980 and just 74 percent in 2008.

Reagan won handily. McCain lost.

Republicans fared well with George W. Bush, who spoke Spanish and backed immigration reform that would allow a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. He took 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004.

Then Republicans helped kill immigration reform. Amnesty, they called it. They cheered as Arizona adopted a get-tough law. By December, just 20 percent of Hispanics called themselves Republicans.

Romney has ripped Gov. Rick Perry of Texas for supporting in-state tuition for children of illegal immigrants, opposed the Dream Act and called for illegal immigrants to "self-deport."

By last week, he trailed Obama among Hispanic voters 67-27 in a new Pew Research Center survey.