MIAMI – Sounding a note of inclusion and unity that belied tension coursing through the campaign, White House hopeful Mitt Romney told Hispanic voters Wednesday he would be president for "100 per cent" of Americans.
The Republican nominee, who trails President Barack Obama two to one among Latinos in the United States, also pledged that, if elected, he would create a permanent solution to immigration but would not "round up" undocumented workers for mass deportation.
Romney made the economic argument that his policies in support of small businesses, education, training and trade would serve Hispanic Americans better than Obama.
But it was his inclusive tone that highlighted key elements of his remarks.
"I care about the 100 per cent," he told viewers of Spanish-language television network Univision. "People in America are going to have a better future if they elect me the next president."
Romney has struggled to stay on message after video secretly filmed at a Florida fundraiser was published this week showing the Republican candidate disparaging 47 per cent of Americans as government-dependent "victims" who backed the Democratic president.
Answering questions translated from Spanish, Romney said he was concerned about the increasing divisiveness in America, "and politics has driven us apart in some respects."
But he said that as president, he would use "every ounce of my energy to bring this country together."
Romney discussed the country's "broken" immigration system, and while he refused to say whether he supported the controversial Arizona law that raises concerns about racial profiling, he said it was his goal to establish federal rules that would tighten laws on illegal immigration.
But he insisted: "We're not going to round up people around the country and deport them."
Early this year, Romney suggested that many of the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants could "self-deport" if they could not find suitable work due to tighter restrictions, a line that was heavily mocked by Democrats as well as rivals in the Republican primaries.
Hispanics comprise the largest minority in the country, and with Romney trailing slightly according to several polls, peeling Latino voters away from Obama is crucial, particularly in battlegrounds like Florida.
After taping his Univision remarks, Romney attended his first public campaign event since Friday, a raucous rally at fairgrounds where he stood before a large blue "Juntos con Romney" banner.
"The president cares about the people of America, I care about the people of America," Romney said.
"But he doesn't know what it takes to help the people of America and I do. I'll get them working again."
The unemployment rate for Hispanics has hovered above 10 per cent for the duration of Obama's presidency, while the overall jobless rate now stands at 8.1 per cent.
Obama's campaign repudiated Romney's plans, saying the Republican was merely aiming for an "extreme makeover" to lure Hispanic voters.
"He doesn't share the priorities or values of the Hispanic community, and there's too much at stake to let him take us backward," deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter said in a memo.
Romney's "extreme position on immigration" includes the "unrealistic" self-deportation policy and a vow to veto the bipartisan DREAM Act, which provides children of illegal immigrants an opportunity to stay in the country legally, Cutter said. - AFP