Mitt Romney made a major move Tuesday to shore up support in South Florida, a region crucial to his chances both in the GOP primary and, should he make it that far, the general election.
Romney’s campaign announced the support of the three well-known Miami-area politicians, Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart, and former Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart. All three are political royalty in the Cuban American community. They will serve as foreign policy advisors to Romney’s campaign.
Ros-Lehtinen, the most senior Republican woman in the House, chairs the Foreign Relations Committee.
“The policies of the past three years have put America’s standing in the world at risk. It is time we had a president who understands that our country must lead,” she said in a statement released by the campaign. “Mitt Romney believes that America is an exceptional nation and has a strategy to restore our country’s greatness.”
Romney will spend Tuesday campaigning on Florida's west coast. And while New Hampshire gets much of the attention, it’s Florida that is shaping up as Romney’s best opportunity to score a signature victory. The primary comes at the end of January—and will be a test of Romney’s financial and organizational clout more than any of the other early states.
Romney was edged by John McCain in the 2008 primary— effectively ending his presidential effort--and lost Miami-Dade County to the Arizona senator as well. Ros-Lehtinen and the Diaz-Balarts endorsed McCain that time around.
Polls have shown Romney to be competitive in the state, and he, as well as Newt Gingrich, seem likely to take advantage of Herman Cain’s continuing implosion. Cain famously won a straw poll among the state’s conservatives earlier this year, launching his stratospheric rocket-ride to the top of the pile.
Should Romney win the GOP nomination, he’ll have some work to do in South Florida. While the state overall barely went for Barack Obama four years ago, Obama crushed McCain in the region.
Another prominent Latino supporter, former Florida Sen. Mel Martinez, went to bat for Romney on Monday on immigration. Martinez, who favored a moderate approach on the issue during his time in the Senate, was part of a massive pushback by Romney’s campaign against a Democratic National Committee ad that portrays Romney as a flip-flopper.
Martinez said his 2009 Senate immigration plan—which Romney then supported—failed to adequately address border security.
“I think this is an issue we’ve all learned a lot about,” Martinez said, according to the Orlando Sentinel. “We really, at that time, made a mistake about not understanding how passionately the American people felt about the issue of securing the border.”
Romney now opposes any immigration plan that would grant some sort of residency to illegal immigrants who have been in the United States for years. Explaining Romney’s shift, Martinez said, “It is an evolving issue over time. Things have changed. I understand Gov. Romney to be a fair-minded person."