Romney echoes Rubio in speech to GOP National Hispanic Assembly in Florida

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney echoed freshman GOP Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) on Friday in an address to the Republican National Hispanic Assembly in Tampa, Fla.

Romney's remarks were strikingly similar to the message of Rubio, whom Romney has said is on his shortlist for vice president should he win the nomination. Rubio often uses his background as a child of immigrants to discuss American exceptionalism, opportunity and freedom.

Romney's speech mostly focused on a broad message of the "common ground" found by a "nation of immigrants" and hit on the Tea Party themes of cutting government spending and respecting the 10th Amendment, which protects the right of states. 

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Like Rubio, he highlighted America's greatness and said that a growing government risks the free-enterprise system that he believes made America great.

"As a nation of immigrants, we’ve found common ground not in our heritage but in our hearts," Romney said. "When generations looked up and saw the Statue of Liberty for the first time, or a piece of sandy beach that was freedom, or stepped off a plane traveling from tyranny to hope ... they knew without a doubt ... that they were coming to a place where anything was possible — that in America, their children, and their grandchildren, would have a better life. That confidence in a better tomorrow defines us as Americans."

These remarks echo Rubio's first Senate speech, when he said that "since her earliest days, America has inspired people from all over the world." Rubio continued on to say, "Whether they came here on the Mayflower, on a slave ship or on an airplane from Havana, we are all descendants of the men and women who built here the nation that saved the world."

Romney also praised Rubio in the speech when discussing legal immigration. "I am a great proponent of legal immigration. Many of you are living proof of the unique strength of America that is constantly renewed by new Americans.  The promise of America has brought some of the world’s best and brightest to our shores," said Romney. "It brought to America the parents of Marco Rubio, who is one of America’s great leaders today."

The one-time front-runner has adopted more of a Tea Party tone since Texas Gov. Rick Perry entered the race, focusing on his business experience and largely ignoring his time as governor. 

While he did not make it a focus of the speech, Romney also discussed illegal immigration, a sensitive issue in front of a Hispanic Republican audience. He called for a high-tech fence along the border with Mexico, an improved employment verification system for businesses and penalties for violations, and touted a veto from when he was governor of a bill that would have provided in-state tuition rates to undocumented immigrants.

Romney is the only top-tier presidential candidate to address the group. Candidate and businessman Herman Cain will also speak, as well as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus.

Florida will likely be an early-voting state in the Republican primaries, and as one of the largest states in the country could have an outsize influence on the GOP nomination process. Assuming Romney wins in New Hampshire and Nevada, where he polls strongly, and doesn't carry Iowa or South Carolina, where his numbers are weaker, the Sunshine State could be key in determining who becomes the GOP nominee.

Updated at 9:45 a.m. to include Romney's full remarks.

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