TAMPA — For many people at the Hispanic Republican picnic on Saturday, their choice for president will be more about voting for a Republican candidate than voting for Sen. John McCain.
While many in the crowd of about 100 at the picnic at Tampa's MacFarlane Park had only good things to say about McCain — he's got experience, he's got integrity, he listens to Hispanics — many said they're really drawn in by Republican values.
"Hispanic values are Republican values: family, God, personal responsibility and national security," said Chely Hernandez-Miller, the president of the newly formed Hispanic Republican Club of Pinellas County.
Many said they'd never consider a Democratic candidate.
"I'm a hundred percent Republican, and I back every Republican," said Oscar Kanahan, the president of the Republican Hispanic Club of Hillsborough County.
Several were adamantly against Democratic candidate Barack Obama. They said they regard his proposed policies are socialist, and that doesn't sit well with Latinos who emigrated from socialist countries for political reasons.
Norma Camero Reno of Temple Terrace attended the picnic wearing an "I (heart) Venezuela" shirt and a McCain-Palin pin. She says she's seen what's happened in Venezuela due to socialist policies, and she doesn't want that for the United States.
"I hear Obama talk about the distribution of wealth," she said. "I don't want my money distributed."
Eliodoro Mederos, 81, carried a sign reading "A vote 4 McCain is a vote against communism. Remember that Castro and Chavez have endorsed: Obama."
Mederos was with the Cuban insurgents when they tried to overthrow Fidel Castro at the Bay of Pigs. He says he remembers loading ammo for those fighting and keeping an eye on the sky, waiting for airplanes from the United States.
"Nothing," he said in Spanish. "They didn't come."
He was sent to jail. And although he's lived in Tampa for 38 years, he'll never forget the despair he felt during the failed operation under the John F. Kennedy administration. He'll never support a Democrat now, he said.
As of July, there were about 1.2-million Hispanic registered voters in Florida, according to the Division of Elections. It's a highly sought-after demographic by both campaigns.
A recent poll conduced by the St. Petersburg Times and Bay News 9 shows that Hispanic voters in Florida favored McCain over Obama by 10 points.
The Obama campaign is trying to shore up support. Several Hispanic leaders recently opened a "Casa Obama" center on Columbus Drive, a central point for canvassing the Hispanic community.
Gladys Bernett, with the Obama National Hispanic Leadership Council, helped found the office and says she supports Obama because he embodies the American dream.
"His life story is very similar to the life story of Latinos in this country," she said.
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2443.