Facebook Twitter

Romney pushing hard in Florida

He appeals for Hispanic vote in tight race with McCain

SHARE Romney pushing hard in Florida
GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, wearing a Cuban guayabera shirt, speaks to Hispanic voters in Sweetwater, Fla., on Sunday.

GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, wearing a Cuban guayabera shirt, speaks to Hispanic voters in Sweetwater, Fla., on Sunday.

Lm Otero, Associated Press

SWEETWATER, Fla. — With one day to go until Florida voters go to the polls, Mitt Romney brought his message to some Hispanic voters on Sunday and will hit five cities via plane today.

Polls show Romney and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., still in a tight race for first place, with Rudy Giuliani —who at one time was the front-runner in the state — still lagging behind.

Romney continues to push his business experience and economic expertise while McCain, a Vietnam veteran and former prisoner of war, is emphasizing his leadership skills and military background, making claims that Romney wants a date certain to pull troops out of Iraq. Romney emphasizes he has not called for such a thing.

Romney says quotes from McCain indicate that he does not understand the economy and that the senator's proposals would raise gasoline and electricity prices. He also reminds voters that McCain initially voted against President Bush's tax cuts.

"I think he wants to talk about anything but that, and I won't let him," Romney said of McCain.

McCain got a boost late Saturday with the endorsement of popular Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who campaigned with him around the state Sunday. Florida Sen. Mel Martinez and the three Cuban American congressmen from South Florida also support McCain.

Romney congratulated McCain on the endorsements, saying he has some of his own as well but noted that the voters will make the decision on Tuesday.

"I expect that I'm going to win this not because of endorsements but because of my message of bringing economic strength and vitality to Florida and to the nation," Romney told reporters. "I simply don't think that the people of Florida are going to say the nominee of our party ought to be a person, who on more than one occasion, has expressed lack of understanding of our economy at a time when the economy is the number one issue that people are talking about here in the state of Florida."

Romney reached out to the Hispanic voters Sunday with a rally at the Jorge Mas Canosa Center, a youth center in the middle of predominantly Cuban and Central American neighborhood. A giant Cuban flag hung on the back wall.

Craig Romney, who spent his LDS mission in Chile, addressed the audience of nearly 150 in Spanish before the former Massachusetts governor took the stage in a Cuban guayabera shirt — a white gauzy shirt with pockets on the front.

Jose "Pepe" Diaz of the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners said that Luis Arrizurieta, a veteran of the Bay of Pigs invasion, gave Romney the shirt "with tears in his eyes." The campaign said Romney changed out of his shirt and tie at the event to wear the shirt, and Diaz said it would have been "a major insult" had he not accepted it. Arrizurieta is a member of the board there. Romney previously met the veteran when he spoke to members of the Miami post of the Bay of Pigs brigade 2506.

"I have a feeling I won't be wearing it throughout the campaign, but I sure am proud and happy to wear it on such a warm day in Miami," Romney said.

Diaz said Romney comes with a straight-forward message that the government is not working and he wants to fix it.

"He doesn't just generalize something, he's detailed it and said how he is going to do it," Diaz said. "We are tired of the rhetoric."

As Diaz introduced Romney to the crowd, he reminded them that he "fixed something that was unfixable," describing the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. He said he took the entity that was $380 million "in the hole" and fixed it.

"He knows more about finance than any other candidate," Diaz said.

Diaz also pointed to the "family values" of Romney. Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, have five sons, five daughters-in-law and 11 grandchildren — including nearly 2-year old Parker Mitt Romney, who joined his grandfather on the stage.

Homemade signs in the crowd said "Romney para nuestra familias" or Romney for our families, and one supporter designed a shirt that said "Nuestra familia apoyan a Mitt Romney," which she said meant "Our family endorses Mitt Romney."

Romney had a light campaign schedule Sunday but has a packed five-city "Change Begins With Us" tour planned for today as part of the last push to get people to the polls.

Romney will start in West Palm Beach then fly to Fort Myers, Orlando, Panama City and Jacksonville before settling in St. Petersburg, where he also will have his election night party.

Meanwhile, Romney's campaign also announced Sunday that Elizabeth Cheney has joined the campaign as a senior foreign policy adviser. Cheney was a national campaign co-chair for the Fred Thompson presidential campaign, but the actor and former U.S. senator has dropped out of the race.

Cheney previously worked as the principal deputy assistant secretary of state of near-Eastern affairs — the second-ranking State Department official overseeing U.S. policy in the Middle East, according to the campaign.

In other race-for-the-White-House news:

• Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., will endorse Senate colleague Barack Obama for president, party officials confirmed Sunday.

The endorsement will be announced today in Washington, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak for the record. An official close to the senator said the announcement will be made during an Obama campaign rally at American University, where he will be joined by Kennedy and his niece, Caroline Kennedy, who also has endorsed Obama.

• Former first daughter Chelsea Clinton — scheduled to appear Tuesday in Utah — stumped on behalf of her mother's presidential campaign Sunday in Jonesboro, Ark.

"We need to get control of our economy," Clinton, 26, told a crowd of nearly 250 at Arkansas State University. "My mother is in favor of the stimulus, and we need to get hold of the home crisis."

Clinton said she does not want to follow in her parents' footsteps and does not know whom her mother would select as a running mate if she wins the Democratic nomination.

Contributing: Charles Babington, Associated Press

E-mail: suzanne@desnews.com