MIAMI (AP) — Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan courted Cuban-American voters Saturday with promises that a Romney administration would support pro-democracy groups in Cuba and "clamp down" on the island's communist, Castro-led government, a tougher policy than President Barack Obama has followed.
Florida is the biggest up-for-grabs state in the November election, and Ryan's promises come just days after two polls of likely Florida voters, one by Fox News and one by NBC, showed Obama leading 49 percent to 44 percent. Such promises play well among Miami's older, Cuban-American voters who can have an impact in competitive races.
Obama has eased restrictions to allow Americans to travel to Cuba and Cuban-Americans to send money to family on the island. But the president has stopped well short of discussing lifting the 50-year-old economic embargo, which is widely viewed in Latin America as a failure and has complicated U.S. relationships in the region. Obama's call for democratic change in Cuba during April's Summit of the Americas in Colombia drew criticism from the Castro government.
While campaigning Saturday morning in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood, the Wisconsin congressman credited Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart and former Rep. Lincoln Diaz Balart — all Miami-area Republicans who support the embargo and strengthened sanctions against Cuba — with teaching him "just how brutal the Castro regime is. Just how this president's policy of appeasement is not working."
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Miami's current and former Cuban-American members of Congress, and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's son Craig touted Ryan's credentials in English and Spanish for the breakfast crowd at Versailles, an iconic Cuban restaurant that's a regular stop for politicians seeking the support of Cuban-American voters.
Ryan also blamed Obama's "failed leadership" for the country's economic woes, and he said that he and Romney would help get Latinos back to work.
Ryan also touted the American dream of freedom and prosperity for immigrants.
"The great thing about immigration in this country is people pick up and they go for a better life, and they come to this country which has the promise of a better life. In this country, it doesn't matter who you are, where you come from or where or under what circumstances you were born. You can make the most of your life because we've had opportunity and upward mobility," Ryan said.
Unlike other immigrant communities in Miami, Cubans benefit from the so-called wet-foot, dry-foot policy that that provides those who reach U.S. soil with temporary visas and a path to legal citizenship. Cubans picked up at sea are generally returned to their Caribbean island.
Ryan said he and Romney have a plan to strengthen America's middle class, and while he shared the goals with the audience, he was short on specifics as to how to reach them.
"We want people to go back to work. We want people to have more opportunity, higher take-home pay. We want people to know that they're secure in their jobs and they actually have a chance at getting a better job, at having more promotions so that they can do more providing for their kids," Ryan said.