Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor… (Mike Segar/Reuters )
Mitt Romney, no longer the front-runner in the GOP presidential sweepstakes, on Friday took his campaign to the pivotal state of Florida, where he told Republican Hispanics that he stood for stronger enforcement to block illegal immigration.
Speaking to the Republican National Hispanic Assembly convention in Tampa, Romney spoke of the value of immigrants to the United States but was careful to distinguish between those who had come to the United States legally and those who hadn’t.
“I am a great proponent of legal immigration,” Romney said, according to a copy of the speech distributed by his campaign. “Many of you are living proof of the unique strength of America that is constantly renewed by new Americans. The promise of America has brought some of the world’s best and brightest to our shores.”
Calling for a “civil but resolute” discussion of immigration, Romney said the country needs “to do a better job of securing its borders, and as president, I will. That means completing construction of a high-tech fence, and investing in adequate manpower and resources.”
Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, also called for tougher enforcement against employers who hire illegal immigrants and for a halt to what he called incentives that promote illegal immigration. “As governor, I vetoed legislation that would have provided in-state tuition rates to illegal immigrants and I strengthened the authority our state troopers had to enforce existing immigration laws.”
Romney, who spent months at the top of the polls in the race for the GOP nomination, has been recently knocked off that perch by Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who presents a more conservative face. Perry is expected to do well in the Iowa caucuses, but Romney is still expected to capture New Hampshire, which will be the first primary. Romney, who has a summer home in New Hampshire and is a former governor of a neighboring state, is almost a favorite son.
That makes Florida, with an early primary, potentially a key moment in the presidential sweepstakes. Usually, Latinos are not a crucial factor in the GOP primaries, but given the strong communities of Cuban and other Latin American immigrants, it is a crucial voting group in Florida.
Which explains, in part, Romney’s strong pitch to the group on international issues, condemning President Obama in how he has dealt with Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.
“Have we ever had a president who was so eager to address the world with an apology on his lips and doubt in his heart? He seems truly confused not only about America’s past but about our future,” Romney said, according to the speech’s text. “So critical was President Obama of America before the United Nations that Fidel Castro complimented him for his ‘courage’ and ‘brave gesture.’ And Venezuelan dictator and thug Hugo Chavez joined in on the praise.
“We can’t lead the world by hoping our enemies — like the rogue regimes in Havana and Caracas — will hate us less," Romney said.
Romney also returned to his criticism of how the Obama administration is handling the economy and again took a shot at Perry by comparing himself to the Texas governor.
“I am a conservative businessman. I have spent most of my life outside of politics, solving real problems in the real economy,” Romney said, a trope he has used before and to which he will likely return when the GOP candidates meet next week in a debate.