Republicans like Romney see hardline positions as essential, but Cuban American demographics may be changing, and the U.S.-Cuba relationship could change with it
Mitt Romney at a Florida event with Cuban-American members of Congress Mario Diaz-Balart, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and Lincoln Diaz-Balart / Reuters
After Newt Gingrich's upset victory in the South Carolina primary, all eyes turned to the potentially game-changing primary in Florida, and to the famously large and organized Cuban American voting bloc, which could help make or break any of the Republican presidential hopefuls. In a nod to the issue's expected resonance in Florida, both CNN debates in the state featured questions about Cuba, or more specifically, about Fidel Castro and how the candidates might handle news of his death. The leading candidates fell all over themselves: they couldn't wait for Castro to meet his maker; no, wait, he won't be so lucky -- he'll go to the other place; and if we could help Libya's Qaddafi get there, why not Castro? From the debate stage to the stump speech to the multi-point plans, the candidates rushed to prove their anti-Castro bona fides, and they hope, win the Cuban American vote.
Cuban Americans are expected to overwhelmingly support Mitt Romney in tonight's primary. With the leading candidates' positions so similar, why would this community break for Romney, and what does it mean for a potential general election face-off between President Obama and Governor Romney?
First, a bit of history. Ever since the Clinton administration returned a little boy found at sea to his father in Cuba, the Cuban American community has been splintering between the old guard and the new guard, between Cubans who wanted to keep Elian Gonzalez in the U.S. more than to reunite him with his father and the Cubans who were mortified by the black eye the community gave itself in the standoff with the U.S. government. The community is increasingly split between Cubans who left the island decades ago under desperate circumstances, never went back, and vote religiously in U.S. elections, often based on U.S. policies toward Cuba; and those who've arrived in the past 20 years, are less interested in politics, less quick to seek U.S. citizenship or vote here, and are more interested in frequent contact with friends and family still on the island.