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Rick Santorum tailors his pitch to South Florida Latinos

January 27, 2012|By Alana Semuels
  • Rick Santorum speaks in Miami on Friday.
Rick Santorum speaks in Miami on Friday. (Paul Sancya / Associated…)

Reporting from Miami — Rick Santorum joined the parade of GOP candidates seeking the Latino vote in South Florida on Friday, playing up his humble roots and interest in Latin American policy in front of a crowd at the Latino Builders Assn. in a ballroom in downtown Miami.

He'd stopped at Versailles Restaurant, a magnet for politicians in Little Havana, on his way down, he said, checking off another box on the list of places to recruit Latino voters. A full 75% of registered GOP voters in Miami-Dade County are Latino, and Santorum's visit to Miami tops off two days of aggressive campaigning by GOP front-runners Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich in Miami.

"I want you to understand this is a passionate issue for me," he said, about Latin America policy. "The U.S. needs to have friends all throughout this hemisphere from Cuba to Venezuela."

Newt Gingrich had spoken to the same group that morning.

Santorum said that as president, he would spread free enterprise and American values throughout the hemisphere, "to be able to one day say that this entire hemisphere is free, is free, and that people can live their dreams consistent with their values," he said, to applause.

Playing up the fact that his grandfather was an immigrant, and that his father was a civil servant, Santorum compared his background to that of members of the Cuban community, which he also said believed in faith and family. He then explained how his policies would be better for the small businessman than the policies of President Obama or other GOP candidates.

"I always tried to focus my efforts on making sure that we created a playing field where the little guy could compete," he said, then pledging to repeal regulations such as the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform act and the health insurance reform that critics call "Obamacare." "If we don't repeal Obamacare and Dodd-Frank, then this room will be half this size in 10 years," he said, to applause.

After speaking, Santorum went into the next room, where he was interviewed by CNN's Wolf Blitzer, who asked him repeatedly about whether he would drop out of the race. Santorum said he would not.

"The more I look at this race, the more likely it seems that this race is going to go on for a long time," he said, adding that his campaign was still hiring campaign workers in new states.

"We feel very good. We're optimistic," he said, to media, walking out of the hotel. "We feel a lot of energy, a lot of positive feedback from last night. People are still searching for that conviction conservative."

For William Ramirez, though, Santorum's energy isn't enough to earn the votes he needs. The 42-year-old works for a security firm, and said he liked what Santorum had to say to the conference. "I like him a lot. But it's too late," he said. Ramirez still has not decided whether to support Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich.

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