GOP Hopefuls Court Cuban American Vote
By Perry Bacon Jr.
MIAMI -- Arizona Sen. John McCain today picked up the endorsement of Florida Sen. Mel Martinez, a Cuban American who may help sway that key voting block here, on a day when all four of the leading GOP candidates courted Latino voters ahead of Tuesday's primary.
Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee stopped in Little Havana in Miami today, and all four were due to speak at meeting of Latino developers in a hotel downtown here.
The endorsement from Martinez could help McCain among Cuban Americans, who are expected to be about one in ten voters in the primary and are a traditionally GOP-voting block. Polls here show a tight race, with McCain and former Massachusetts governor Romney effectively tied for first and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and Huckabee battling for third, although Giuliani has staked the future of his campaign on a win here and is predicting a win.
In courting Cuban voters in Florida, all the candidates have said they support the current U.S. trade embargo with Cuba. Huckabee campaigned yesterday with Cuban American members of the state legislature who have endorsed him, including House Speaker Marco Rubio, and McCain campaigned early in the week with three Cuban American U.S. House members who are backing him.
Martinez, due to appear with McCain later on Friday, worked with the Arizona Senator a proposal that would create a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, a cause that generates enthusiasm among Latinos but dogged McCain's campaign in states like Iowa and is disliked by many conservative Republicans around the country.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Huckabee and Romney, who battled in Iowa over who was most opposed to illegal immigration, both said little about the issue in front of the Latino Builders Association. Romney touted his plan to pump up the economy through reducing the corporate tax rate and ending Social Security taxes for workers over 65, while noting he agreed with the stimulus package that Bush and congressional leaders laid out yesterday.
"The only way to get America on track economically is to have a president who actually understands how the economy works," he told a group of several hundred, noting his experience in business before he entered politics.
Differing from his usual stump approach, he also spoke in detail about his background as the head of a venture capital firm called Bain Capital, even acknowledging his role in layoffs that happened at some companies Bain worked with.
"It's probably the hardest thing I've done. It's awful. It feels terrible," he said.
Huckabee also said the stimulus package was a good idea, but said he would have preferred the money be spent on building more roads around the country, which he said would reduce traffic, create jobs and improve productivity by keeping workers' commutes short.
He also touted his idea to create a national sales tax to fund the government, which he said could "put the IRS where the sun don't shine."
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