FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Mitt Romney hit on his audience's priorities on Sunday in Hialeah, Fla., where he spoke to a largely Cuban American crowd about a need to bring down leaders in Cuba and Venezuela and to maintain strong family values in the United States.
"I want to make sure that you see one of the boys, and I have the best one here today," he said of his son Craig, who speaks Spanish. "Why don't we have Craig say a word or two? Say it in Spanish, too, will you? En Español, si," the former Massachusetts governor continued.
Romney's speech, held in front of a restaurant called Casa Marin, had its usual elements, touching on the need to end Obamacare, create jobs and keep the military strong. He quoted "America the Beautiful" and spoke about when he first began dating his wife, Ann.
But he devoted more time than usual to relations with dictatorial states such as Cuba, tying the bureaucracy and big government there to what he said President Barack Obama wants in the United States.
"Some of you through your life experiences have seen what happens when countries have a government that becomes too big," he said. "This is a president who I think is making America into a European-style social welfare state."
Florida has 2.1 million Hispanics eligible to vote, one third of whom are Cuban American, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Nearly 30 percent are Puerto Rican. Their political leanings are at times different from Hispanic voters nationwide, a majority of whom are Mexican Americans, which some attribute to the fact that Puerto Ricans are citizens and Cubans have an easy path to citizenship when they arrive in the United States.
Cuban Americans and Puerto Ricans are heavily targeted by Republican candidates for this reason, especially in Miami-Dade county. A majority of Florida's Hispanic Republicans reside in the county, according to a report from the Pew Hispanic Center using data from the Florida Division of Elections.
Romney said last week that he would wish Fidel Castro to hell -- or "another land," as he put it -- and mentioned the Castros several times in his Sunday speech when discussing the need to be tough on dictators and support freedom movements.
Some Cuban Americans in the crowd, many of whom said they only speak Spanish, said they appreciated his message on the Castros and Venezuela President Hugo Chavez. Juan Perez, 60, was born in Cuba but moved to the United States in 1965, and considers himself Hispanic. He said he is still choosing between Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and respects their views on the Castros. He added that Obama has failed to act to stop the regimes in Cuba and Venezuela.
"If we were to treat Adolph Hitler the same way that Obama wants to treat these people, maybe Hitler would still be goose-stepping down the Champs-Elysees," he said.
Romney has support from two Cuban American members of Congress, Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), and former Florida Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, along with other Hispanic Republicans who joined him on stage in Hialeah.
Ros-Lehtinen mentioned Chavez in Spanish during her introduction of Romney, then talked about his strong conservative values as a "family man."
Ann Romney also added a line to her usual speech about her husband, telling the crowd that she and her husband share the strong family values of the community.
"We love this community and the reason we love this community is because you love families," she said.