In this overwhelmingly Hispanic city of 225,000 just outside Miami, Mitt Romney was made to feel right at home on Sunday.The Hialeah Police Department closed down streets surrounding his rally here and escorted the candidate’s campaign bus as it rolled into a restaurant parking lot that was packed with a lively crowd of Spanish-speaking Republicans.
An animated coterie of introductory speakers bellowed into the microphone in both Spanish and English as the audience cheered and waved homemade signs that read “Vive, Romney!” and “Arriba, Mitt Romney.”
With a bouncy demeanor that made his crushing defeat in South Carolina just one week ago seem like a distant memory, Romney let on that he has victory here in his sights.
He beamed as his Spanish-speaking son Craig said a few words to the crowd in their native language, and the candidate’s grandson Parker extended his own “Hola.”
Romney’s appearance here was one of three well-attended South Florida rallies he hosted just two days before the pivotal primary on Tuesday.
As his lead over Newt Gingrich in the RCP average of Florida polls has stretched to more than 11 per cent, Romney brimmed with confidence as he played to the boisterous, largely Cuban-American crowd.
“If I’m president of the United States, I will stand with free people around the world and speak out for them and do everything in our power to bring freedom to the people of Cuba, and the people of Venezuela, and the people of Iran,” he said. “We will stand with freedom fighters all over the world.”
His trouble with winning over Hispanic voters was a key reason Romney lost the 2008 make-or-break Florida primary to John McCain.
But with all of the momentum apparently on Romney’s side this time, campaign spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom said that Hispanics were responding well to the candidate’s economy-heavy message. A key component of that message has been a relentless barrage against Gingrich for his past work on behalf of mortgage giant Freddie Mac.
“The unemployment rate in the Hispanic community is higher than it is for Caucasians, and they’ve experienced the housing foreclosure crisis here,” Fehrnstrom said. “I think the part of Newt’s record that’s creating the most problems for him down in Florida is his paid advocacy for Freddie Mac, and there’s just something fundamentally wrong with the people of Florida losing their homes at the same time Newt was cashing in with Freddie Mac.”
Gingrich has for many years raised an alarm that the Republican Party must do better at courting Hispanics, a voting bloc that largely broke for Barack Obama in 2008.
Additionally, Romney has faced questions as to whether he can grow the GOP share of the Latino vote in a general election, given his hard-line positions on several immigration issues.
But Romney appears to be reaping rewards from that community here for the same reasons he’s done well among non-Hispanics in the Sunshine State: his well-received debate performances last week and a significant financial advantage over Gingrich, which has allowed him to spotlight the former House speaker’s unceremonious fall from power in Washington.
“I’ve been successful as a leader — I didn’t get pushed out as leader,” Romney told the crowd here.
This story was originally published by RealClearPolitics.