While other Republican presidential contenders focus their campaigns almost exclusively on Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina - the first three states to choose a nominee - Mitt Romney spent Tuesday courting Hispanic voters in Miami and Tampa.
"You probably did not know that my dad was not born in this country - he was born in Mexico," Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, told a largely Hispanic crowd in a Miami grocery warehouse. "And at age 5- or 6-years-old, because of revolution in Mexico, my dad's dad came back to the United States and began a construction business."
Romney pulled his youngest son, Craig, up to the microphone and asked him to speak a few words of Spanish. Craig spent a few years living in Chile, Romney crowed.
To win the nomination, Romney needs the support of Florida's Hispanic community, a lesson he learned the hard way during his first campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008.
After spending millions of dollars running television ads across the Sunshine State, Romney lost the Florida primary by 5 percentage points to Sen. John McCain, who went on to claim the party's nomination.
McCain beat Romney in part because 51 percent of Hispanics backed him while only 15 percent supported Romney in an election in which Hispanics accounted for one out of every 10 Republican Florida votes, exit polls show.
A key swing state, delegate-rich Florida could be particularly important for Romney in 2012, campaign analysts said.
"Of the early states, Romney seems least likely to prevail in South Carolina - even less likely than in Iowa - meaning Florida will be a great way of counteracting the disappointment in South Carolina," said William A. Galston, former policy adviser to President Clinton and a number of presidential candidates. Florida's primary, scheduled for Jan. 31, immediately follows South Carolina's.
Romney's early trip to Florida was about more than courting the Hispanic vote, however. It was also a way for Romney to tout himself as the inevitable party nominee, the standard bearer who would be representing the GOP in next fall's general election, Romney campaign officials said.
"It's a critical state in both contests, and that's why we are building a team in Florida and have busy campaign schedule here," Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams told The Washington Examiner.
"Gov. Romney plans to campaign vigorously in Florida during the primary and during the general election," he added, assuming Romney will win the nomination.
Romney is already better off in Florida than he was in 2008, after snagging three endorsements from leaders of Florida's influential Cuban-American community who once backed McCain.
The endorsements came Tuesday from U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart, and his brother, former congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart.
"Gov. Romney has been taking the long view from the very beginning of his campaign," Galston said. "He's done his best, I think, to always keep the general election in mind as he's campaigning for the Republican nomination."