Romney Picks Up Key Endorsements In Florida

Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney campaigned in Florida Tuesday — and picked up a few endorsements from Cuban-American lawmakers.

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Mitt Romney headed South today as well. In Florida, he campaigned and picked up a few endorsements. His new supporters include some prominent Cuban-American members of Congress - Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart - and former congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart.

NPR's Ari Shapiro reports from Miami on Mitt Romney's efforts to win over a key segment of the Florida vote.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Florida Republicans are as diverse as the state. There are evangelical mega-churches around Orlando; transplanted Northeasterners at the tip of the state; and in the Panhandle, conservative voters have more in common with Alabama than with Miami.

This morning, it was obvious which section of the diverse Republican Party Mitt Romney was trying to appeal to.

MITT ROMNEY: You probably didn't know that my dad was not born in this country. He was born in Mexico.

SHAPIRO: In Florida, Latino voters could determine the winner, both in the primary and later, in the general election. Today, Romney did his utmost to win them over. He even brought along his son, Craig.

MITT ROMNEY: He took a couple of years of Spanish in high school, so his Spanish wouldn't be terribly good. But he also lived in Chile for a couple of years. So I'm going to ask you if you'll - can you still speak a little Spanish? I never speak in Spanish, so just say hello.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPALUSE)

SHAPIRO: Craig Romney then gave a 10-second hello in Spanish.

CRAIG ROMNEY: Thank you. (Foreign language spoken)

SHAPIRO: ...and then switched back to English.

The Romney campaign billed this event as a discussion about the economy, but the 10-minute appearance did not include a back-and-forth with the audience. That may be just as well. Immigration is important in this community, and Romney's position on the issue is complicated - his opponents say contradictory.

Last week, Romney said any plan that would legalize a large section of undocumented workers amounts to amnesty. Even congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who endorsed Romney today, said they don't see eye-to-eye.

REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN: Yes, I disagree with him on many issues. He disagrees with me on many issues. But you balance it out and you say, what is important to me right now? And it's the economy and creating jobs for this generation and the next ones.

SHAPIRO: Romney delivered a version of his typical stump speech in front of a few dozen people. Behind him, pallets stacked to the ceiling with guava bites, coconut water, sofrito, and other products from Latin America.

This is Conchita Foods. The company has been in Rita Farrow's family almost 60 years.

RITA FARROW: Ooh, since Cuba. My father-in-law was the one that founded the company. And then the Cuban government took it over, like they took everything over. And we came over here, and we started it here again. And here we are.

SHAPIRO: That experience gives her an innate distrust of big government, which is one reason she loves Mitt Romney. And Romney argued that it's a reason the voters of south Florida should reject Barack Obama.

MITT ROMNEY: He believes that government has the answers to all the challenges; that government can do a better job guiding our economy than can free people; that government can tell us how to live our lives better than can free people. He's wrong.

SHAPIRO: The Democrats have not waited to hit back. Yesterday, the DNC released an attack ad that charts Romney's changing positions on abortion, health care and other issues. In the scrum of reporters after the speech today, Romney responded.

MITT ROMNEY: It shows that they're awfully afraid of facing me in the general election. They want to throw the primary process to anybody but me. So bring it on; we're ready for them.

SHAPIRO: Romney took second place to John McCain here four years ago. He's been working hard to make sure that doesn't happen again. But Florida International University political scientist Dario Moreno says that's a double-edged sword.

DARIO MORENO: He is the establishment candidate at a time when a lot of voters - Republicans as well as Democrats - are upset at the political establishment.

SHAPIRO: Florida voters go to the polls at the end of January.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Miami.

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