Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich got into a game of one-upmanship at a GOP debate Monday night when discussing the potential death of Cuba's Fidel Castro, the dictator from whom many Cuban-Americans fled, often to Florida.
"Well first of all, you thank heavens that Fidel Castro has returned to his maker and will be sent to to another land," Romney said to applause from the crowd -- one of the first signs of life from the audience in the debate -- when asked by moderator Brian Williams what he would do if Castro died and Cubans flooded to the United States.
Newt Gingrich went one step further when he was asked the same question.
"I don't think Fidel is going to meet his maker," Gingrich said. "I think he's going to the place."
Romney said he would work with the new leadership in Cuba, then saying there should be more done to help dissidents today. He brought up Wilman Villar, a Cuban dissident who died last Thursday after a hunger strike. Romney put out a statement the day after Villar's death praising him for his "ultimate sacrifice" and stating his "solidarity with Cuba's historic pro-democracy movement."
Rick Santorum said that ending dictatorships in Cuba and Venezuela is essential because the nations may collaborate with al Qaeda. Only one candidate disagreed about continuing sanctions on Cuba: Ron Paul, as is typical on foreign policy issues.
"We propped up Castro for 40-some years because we put up these sanctions and this only used us as the scapegoat, he could say anything wrong is the United States' fault," Paul said. "I think it's time to quit this isolationist business of not talking to people."
Republicans are frantically trying to appeal to Latino voters in Florida, which has 1.5 million Latino voters. Romney has endorsements from Cuban-American Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart and former Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, whom he used in a Spanish-language radio ad out today. In that ad, Ros-Lehtinen says Romney "will fight against the despotic efforts of Castro."
Meanwhile, Gingrich has a Spanish-language radio ad saying Romney "goes around using Castro phrases," according to a translation by the Miami Herald, because he once used a phrase associated with Castro.