McCain comes to Miami to shore up his base
BY BETH REINHARD
October 17, 2008
John McCain rides into Miami Friday on the hopes the city will offer the right change in scenery for a pro-immigration, anti-Castro Republican struggling in the polls.
In his first public appearance in Miami since June, the presidential nominee will address a heavily Hispanic audience at Florida International University before heading north to Melbourne. George W. Bush visited FIU on the eve of the 2000 election, in which he won 69 percent of the vote in the surrounding House district.
''I'm not going to say it's a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, but basically he's going to the cradle of the base,'' said Republican state Rep. J.C. Planas, who represents nearby Westchester.
Reflecting Florida's status at the forefront of the presidential race, Democratic nominee Barack Obama is slated to promote the start of early voting on Monday in Tampa and Orlando, where he'll be joined by former rival Hillary Clinton. Clinton is also headed to the state's Democratic stronghold of Broward County.
During a statewide tour of Republican campaign offices this week, GOP chairman Jim Greer told volunteers in Doral, “You do not get to the Oval Office without winning Florida.''
Although McCain is trailing statewide, some polls show him leading among Hispanic voters, and he won the majority of the Hispanic vote in the January primary, advantages he'll seek to build on over the next three weeks. With the sagging economy front and center, McCain is running a new ad on Spanish-language radio and TV that whacks Obama on taxes.
The financially strapped Republican nominee will enjoy free airtime when he campaigns in the expensive media market that covers Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe counties.
''You're not just reaching the constituents on Eighth Street,'' said Miami lobbyist Al Crdenas, former chairman of the Republican Party of Florida. “You're going to get significant press coverage throughout South Florida. You try to get as much as earned media as you can when the other guy is outspending you three to one.''
Along with Gov. Charlie Crist and Sen. Mel Martinez, McCain will be joined at the rally by Cuban-American Reps. Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart, whose competitive reelection campaigns could help boost McCain-friendly turnout in South Florida.
The Miami event will be an opportunity for McCain to tout his leadership on immigration reform and support for a free-trade agreement with Colombia, which he called a ''no brainer'' in Thursday's debate. These issues dear to Hispanic voters have been drowned out in recent weeks by the economic turmoil.
ROAD TO CITIZENSHIP
The Arizona senator also is likely to talk about his efforts in Congress to pass legislation that would allow illegal workers to earn citizenship. He vowed one month ago in Orlando to make immigration reform one of his ''first priorities'' if elected president, but the meltdown by Wall Street giant Lehman Brothers led the newscasts that day.
''I think McCain's big mistakes with non-Cuban Hispanics has been not stressing his immigration stance. I wish he had touted it more,'' Planas said. “We're talking about the most pro-Hispanic senator in the U.S., with the exception of [Cuban Americans] Mel Martinez and Robert Menendez.''
Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, campaigned at Florida International University and the Little Havana Activities and Nutrition Center a week ago on Obama's behalf. He has made the same trek south during the past three presidential elections.
A WINNING ISSUE
''This was one of the best receptions I got,'' Menendez said in a telephone interview from Washington. “The economic message that Obama is delivering is falling on receptive ears among those who in the past were driven more by ideological issues, like Cuba.''
Obama has said he would be willing to meet with the communist regime to talk about democratic reforms, a position that amounts to heresy among some Cuban exiles. He also wants to allow Cuban Americans to travel and send money freely to the island.
McCain has ridiculed Obama for being willing to sit down with the Castro government and says the United States needs to hold firm on the restrictions President Bush placed on travel and remittances.
THE SPACE COAST
After leaving Miami, McCain is headed to Melbourne, where the economy heavily depends on the space program. In advance of McCain's visit, Obama began running a new ad on the Space Coast in which U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson says McCain's proposed across-the-board spending freeze would hurt NASA's budget, “so layoffs would loom larger, and NASA would continue to be starved of funds for future exploration.''
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