Republicans have an opening to steal some of the Latino vote, given that President Obama's approval rating among them has hit a new low, but the candidates will have a hard time winning them if they keep throwing red meat to their anti-immigration base. The candidates referred to illegal immigrants as "illegals" ten times in the Las Vegas debate Tuesday, most notably when Mitt Romney responded to Rick Perry's accusation that he'd hired undocumented workers by saying, "I'm running for office, for Pete's sake, I can't have illegals." Romney "can make as many trips to Florida and New Mexico and Colorado and other swing states that have a large Latino population, but he can write off the Latino vote ... He’s not going to gain it again," Republican strategist Lionel Sosa told The New York Times' Trip Gabriel. Sosa advised George W. Bush and John McCain on winning over Latinos.

When Rick Perry entered the race, he was touted as a Republican candidate who could appeal to Latinos. But his campaign is not emphasizing his record of passing a law that gives illegal immigrants in-state college tuition. Instead, on Wednesday it released a attack ad with scary disaster movie music against Romney, that closes with his illegals-would-hurt-my-campaign admission, Politico's James Hohman notes. Romney's campaign is countering with an anti-Perry site, CareerPolitician.com, with an ad that says almost half of Texas' new jobs have gone to illegal immigrants and compares Perry to Obama.
 
Perry's predecessor in the Texas governor's mansion, George W. Bush got the larges slice of Latino voters ever for a Republican presidential candidate, with 44 percent in 2004. (And things were different just 4 years ago for Romney, when he spoke before the Republican National Hispanic Assembly Conventions prayer in 2007, pictured above.) Republicans won 38 percent of the Latino vote in the 2010 midterms, and one major Republican loss is attributed Latinos turning out heavily for Democrats. In Nevada, Sharron Angle ran an anti-immigration ad featuring Latino "thugs" against Sen. Harry Reid, who had looked very vulnerable. She then defended the ad by saying the ad wasn't meant to be racist -- some Latinos "look Asian." Democratic strategist Andres Ramirez told Gabriel that Latino turnout in Nevada would be higher than in 2008, when it was 15 percent. Obama's reelection campaign is focusing on swing states like Nevada, Colorado, and Florida in 2012, instead of traditional battleground states like Ohio. And Politico's Mike Allen reports that Obama's campaign is working to reach out to centrist Christians -- in part, because "Democratic officials say they see an opening with Christians on immigration" and other issues.
 
Other Republican leaders in Nevada and Colorado told Gabriel that the immigration issue was a distraction from the more important issue of jobs. But that's not how it seemed at the most recent Republican debate. Here are some choice quotes about "illegals":
PERRY: ... but we have a 1,200-mile border with Mexico, and the fact is we have a huge number of illegals that are coming into this country. 
 
And they're coming into this country because the federal government has failed to secure that border. But they're coming here because there is a magnet. And the magnet is called jobs. And those people that hire illegals ought to be penalized
 
And Mitt, you lose all of your standing, from my perspective, because you hired illegals in your home and you knew about it for a year ...
 
ROMNEY: Rick, I don't think I've ever hired an illegal in my life. And so I'm afraid -- I'm looking forward to finding your facts on that, because that just doesn't -- 
 
PERRY: And they want to hear you say that you knew you had illegals working at your -- 
 
ROMNEY: ... When you were governor, you said, I don't want to build a fence. You put in place a magnet ...
 
You put in place a magnet to draw illegals into the state, which was giving $100,000 of tuition credit to illegals that come into this country, and then you have states -- the big states of illegal immigrants are California and Florida. Over the last 10 years, they've had no increase in illegal immigration. 
 
PERRY: You stood here in front of the American people and did not tell the truth that you had illegals working on your property. And the newspaper came to you and brought it to your attention, and you still, a year later, had those individuals working for you. 
 
ROMNEY: OK.You wrote an op-ed in the newspaper saying you were open to amnesty. That's number one. 
 
Number two, we hired a lawn company to mow our lawn, and they had illegal immigrants that were working there. And when that was pointed out to us, we let them go ...
 
So we went to the company and we said, look, you can't have any illegals working on our property. I'm running for office, for Pete's sake, I can't have illegals.