- Title: USA: Republican candidates court Hispanics as they campaign in Florida
- Date: 28th January 2012
- Summary: MIAMI, FLORIDA, UNITED STATES (JANUARY 27, 2012) (REUTERS) STREET SCENE IN LITTLE HAVANA VARIOUS OF LITTLE HAVANA SIGNS BUILDING WITH ROMNEY POSTER IN WINDOW POSTER IN WINDOW
- Embargoed: 12th February 2012 12:00
- Location: Usa, Usa
- Country: USA
- Topics: Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA6TJH5Z49ZQLEGIDR5RDXNFO29
- Story Text: The upcoming Florida Republican primary was a hot topic of conversation for Cuban-Americans in Miami's Little Havana on Friday (January 27), and while opinions differed, many said any candidate will be a better choice than President Barack Obama in November.
Whoever becomes the nominee to take on President Obama's re-election bid will need support from Latinos -- the largest and fastest growing U.S. minority group -- to win the White House.
At a conference hosted by the Hispanic Leadership Network in Miami, the two front-running GOP candidates took center stage.
"I am running for President. I would like to extend el sueno Americano to every single person in the country of every background. We have a primary here on Tuesday. I'd love to have your support, your endorsement. I'd love you to go on youtube, facebook, tweet, whatever your techniques are, even talk to people face to face. And I'd be very, very grateful for your help and I can promise you I will try to lead all Americans into a dramatically better future," said presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich.
According to the latest polls, Mitt Romney has a commanding 15 point lead in Florida. His son, Craig Romney, addressed the conference delegates in Spanish.
"I know my father as a man of integrity, a man of character, of family, of faith. He has the experience, as Governor of Massachusetts, as a leader of the 2002 Olympic Games, as a businessman for 30 years. He has the experience that this country needs now for the future and I know he will be an excellent president. Thank you," he said.
Florida is home to the third-largest Latino population in the United States after California and Texas. In Florida, Latinos represent over 13 percent of the state's 11.2 million registered voters, according to data from the Florida Division of Elections compiled by the Pew Hispanic Center.
The Hispanic vote in Florida is mostly identified with Cuban-Americans who often vote Republican and whose political views are largely shaped by the Cuban exile community and their opposition to Cuba's Fidel Castro.
Nearly a third of eligible Hispanic voters in Florida are of Cuban descent. Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a darling of the Tea Party Movement, addressed the conference in an effort to solidify opposition to President Obama.
Ignacio Gonzalez has yet to decide on his choice. He says he is looking to see who has the best chance of ousting President Obama.
"You know, they (Democrats) controlled the House, Senate, and the White House, and they didn't do anything for Latinos," he said.
Conference attendee Peter Jupiter, a Tea Party supporter, said Mitt Romney is his clear choice.
"The economy is really bad and job creation is key and in my personal opinion Governor Romney, I call him the turn around guy, because anybody that started from basically nothing and gravitated up can turn around the country economically. He has that proven history," he said.
Republican strategist Ana Navarro, a former advisor to Jon Huntsman's presidential bid, says the Florida primary is by far the most important of the contests to date because it acts as a litmus test of how the Hispanic community will vote.
"We are seeing in this last week in Florida a very heavy courting of the two major candidates of that hispanic vote and I think that is exactly what we are going to see in the general (election). That is why Florida is such a good dry run for the general because its the first time in the primary season when hispanics are in play and it can make or break a candidate," she said.
Back in Little Havana, Senator Rick Santorum makes his case to Cuban-American voters. He believes his core values will help him with voters next Tuesday.
"You know, just walking around in here, people talk about me standing up for the values of this community and we do. We stand up for the values of faith and family. We stand up for the values of an immigrant community that makes a huge impact on our country as all immigrant communities do," Santorum said outside a diner where Cuban coffee is served.
Laura Vianelo, a little Havana resident, said Newt Gingrich is the best choice out of GOP contenders.
"We need someone like Gingrich who is strong and very committed, he is very intelligent and we believe he is the kind of guy who can cope with Difficult situations especially given the state of the world and the complexities of foreign affairs," she said.
Miguel Saavedra, a mechanic in Miami, says he supports Gingrich because he believes the former Speaker of the House will take a tougher line with the Cuban regime.
"The difference is that Gingrich is more forcefully opposed to the Havana regime. Romney is not involved in the Cuban community and he committed errors that don't benefit the Cuban community," Saavedra said.
A younger generation of Cuban-Americans with more of a willingness to engage with the Cuban government has led to a growing rank of Democrats, even in Miami-Dade County, where 60 percent of Florida's Hispanic Republican voters live.
Still, Republican candidates have sought to rally its traditional Cuban conservative base.
And with a relatively narrow difference between the number of Latino Republicans and Democrats in Florida, the state's Hispanic vote could be very much in play in November.
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