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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Hispanic Democrats bash Romney (and Rubio), claim Obama will be all right in Florida



Democrats today sought to counter Mitt Romney's speech to Hispanics in Tampa -- in which he took veiled shots at Rick Perry for being weak on immigration while calling for "civil" reforms -- and suggested the one-time front-runner is caught between two worlds as he seeks tea party credibility and moves to the right.

Despite continued high unemployment, even more severe for Hispanics, Democrats claim polling shows "support is high" for President Obama. They're clearly hoping the picture will improve by next November, though even the White House concedes things will continue to be bleak.

"A lot of folks talk about the election as if it's tomorrow, but we have almost a year and half to go," said state Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando, holding out the president's upcoming jobs proposal as promising sign. "Sure Latinos are disappointed about the economy right now," he continued, "but what is the alternative? We've seen wacky plan after wacky plan or no plan at all from the other side. I think what it's going to come down to is the president will be the reasonable voice."

Soto, who was joined on a conference call by Rep. Janet Cruz of Tampa, was asked about Sen. Marco Rubio's appeal and potential to draw Hispanics to the GOP.

"Certainly having Marco Rubio as a vice presidential candidate would be an interesting factor in the Latino vote," Soto said. "But I can tell you there's a big difference between a Puerto Rican Democrat in Central Florida or a Cuban Democrat in Tampa and a Cuban Republican in South Florida. ... It's not going to be about Marco. It's going to be about who the presidential candidate is."

But he went on to suggest Rubio's rhetoric about opportunity, wrapped around his Cuban immigrant parents, does not meet the reality of his positions.

"The irony is he talks slick but his policies hurt Latinos," Soto said. "His immigration policy needs to be exposed in a big way, which is he doesn’t have one. All he thinks is we need to put a big wall in Mexico. And when people start seeing there’s a big gap between looking presentable and talking a good game and the fact that almost on every point he’s against Latinos, that is something that we’re going to be on that wall, everyday reminding everybody of. And I think that’s a message that, with the president’s ability to be a great communicator, is going to be something we’re going to be able keep major gains in the I-4 corridor and hold our guns with Cuban Democrats in South Florida."

Rubio has espoused the border-first posture of his party, saying only after that can comprehensive reforms come.

Democrats would love to see more tough immigration talk from Romney and the other Republican presidential. But will it resonate as much in Florida, where Cubans and Puerto Ricans are not affected?

"The notion is we're all Hispanics and we all live in the same community," Soto said. "The bottom line is this rhetoric of stopping immigration reform, the DREAM Act and things like that just come off as anti-Hispanic at the end of the day. ... And that's the great irony of Romney going into a group of Hispanics today and talking about being a hard-liner on immigration. We all have a neighbor, we all have a family member or we all have a friend in the Hispanic community that is dealing with immigration."

Audio of the call is here.

[Last modified: Friday, September 2, 2011 5:36pm]


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