Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney picked up some vital Florida endorsements this week, securing the support of three key Cuban-Americans. All three supported the pro-immigrant Dream Act, and one is the only sitting Republican in Congress to have come out in favor of repealing the Defense of Marriage Act, both positions that clash with Romney's stated stances on those issues.
The Associated Press reports:
[Romney] announced endorsements from Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart and his brother, former Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, among others. They underscore his strengths going into the Jan. 31 Florida primary and would help him appeal to Hispanics in the state should he become the nominee. The Cuban exile community in the Miami area is an important constituency group for Republicans and the three, who endorsed Sen. John McCain over Romney in 2008, are longtime leaders here.
While their support could help Romney win an important primary contest and put him in a solid position in the Sunshine State if he goes on to win the GOP nomination, Ros-Lehtinen's position on DOMA, as well as the trio's broader support for the Dream Act, highlights Romney's own complex record on the issues of immigration and gay rights.
Romney has come out as an opponent of gay marriage in this election cycle. He signed on to a staunch social conservative pledge drafted by the National Organization for Marriage in August, but earlier declined to attach his name to a stricter document that his campaign claimed contained "undignified" and "inappropriate" provisions. He has since said that he supports gay rights while maintaining that he is against marriage rights for same-sex couples.
As ThinkProgress noted recently, his position on the issue has long been conflicted:
While running for Senate in 1994, Romney argued that same-sex marriage is "a state issue as you know -- the authorization of marriage on a same-sex basis falls under state jurisdiction." He told [gay GOP group] the Log Cabin Republicans, "We must make equality for gays and lesbians a mainstream concern" and promised to co-sponsor a federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).
And as governor of Massachusetts, Romney drew fire for supporting civil unions while urging the state legislature to adopt an anti-gay marriage amendment that he had earlier refused to support. When the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2004, Romney allowed clerks to begin issuing marriage licenses to marriage-seeking Massachusetts residents, but also took steps to prevent out-of-state couples from turning the state into what he called "the Las Vegas of same-sex marriage."
Romney's GOP primary rival Rick Santorum recently sought to turn the screws on this record.
"I would argue that Mitt Romney, as governor of Massachusetts, was to the left of Barack Obama on gay marriage," Santorum said in a recent radio interview.
When it comes to the Dream Act, a bill that would provide a path to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants, Romney -- who recently completed his evolution into a full-fledged immigration hawk -- also takes a different stance from his endorsers.
The Miami Herald reports on the trio's response when asked about these policy disagreements.
After the event, all three Hispanic leaders acknowledged they disagree with Romney on immigration. But they said he is the best candidate in the crowded field -- though former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is a friend who has more consistently backed their immigration approach.
Ros-Lehtinen later explained her decision to endorse Romney despite the clear divergence on these issues.
"I'm never gonna find a candidate with whom I agree 100 percent of the time on 100 percent of the issues, but I think the election hinges on the economy -- which candidate has the most solid plan to create private sector jobs and get our economy back on track," Ros-Lehtinen told the Washington Post. "I don't agree with governor Romney’s position on immigration, but I agree with him solidly on the economy, and for me that’s the driving force in this election."
Former Florida GOP Sen. Mel Martinez, once a co-sponsor of an earlier version of the Dream Act, also endorsed Romney earlier this year.
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