Romney plays for Hispanic support in FL

HIALEAH, Fla. — It was a mélange of various dialects of Spanish blending together Sunday as a crowd waited for Mitt Romney to arrive at a rally in this Miami suburb.

They chanted "U.S.A." in repetition as his blue campaign bus rolled down the street, passing by signs for immigration attorneys and a Hispanic grocery store.

When he emerged from his bus, he was introduced by a half-dozen relatives and members of Congress who alternated between English and Spanish as they told a vivacious and extremely supportive crowd why they were supporting the former Massachusetts governor's presidential campaign.

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One of his grandsons, Parker Mitt Romney, said "hola" to the crowd as they greeted him with applause, and his son, Craig, told the crowd in Spanish that his father couldn't address them in their native language, but that his command of economic principles was solid.

And Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was loudly booed when Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who has endorsed Romney, dropped his name while addressing the crowd in Spanish.

"America must continue to recognize its central mission," Romney said. "We are a beacon of hope to people around the world."

For the second time on the campaign trail Sunday, Romney mentioned how he had met his wife in elementary school, both drawing a contrast with his top rival, Newt Gingrich, and hitting on the family issues that polling suggests are a top priority for the Hispanic community.

"We've been married a long time, and it's been wonderful," said his wife, Ann Romney, recalling him telling her that her job as a mother was more important than his. "We're equal partners," she said.

Romney has been working to shore up his support with the Hispanic community ahead of Tuesday's primary in Florida, home to the largest swath of conservative Hispanics in the country. And Hialeah was the ideal place to do it; Almost 95 percent of the city is of Hispanic or Latino origin, according to the U.S. Census.

A Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald/Tampa Bay Times poll released Friday showed that 52 percent of Hispanic voters in Florida are backing Romney, while Gingrich is garnering just 28 percent support from the Hispanic community.

But Romney has taken a harder line on immigration than Gingrich, arguing that about 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States should be encouraged to "self-deport" through the denial of employment opportunities.

Gingrich has used that stance to label Romney as the "most anti-immigrant candidate" and has made his own appeals to the Hispanic community on the campaign trail, but most seem to be still siding with Romney.

A Hispanic town hall Gingrich held Saturday in Orlando, Fla. was so sparsely attended that he scrapped the planned format and opted to greet each attendee individually after speaking for just a few minutes.