GOP Race Intensifies As Candidates Make Miami Stops

Gingrich, Romney, Santorum all have events scheduled in Miami Friday

With the final Florida debate before Tuesday's primary out of the way, the Republican presidential hopefuls were back on the Sunshine State campaign trail Friday, with a few making stops in South Florida.

Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney both participated in the Hispanic Leadership Network's "Inspiring Action" conference at the Doral Golf Resort and Spa, joined by Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

"I will not only say something when Fidel Castro finally leaves this earth, I will do something. I will be behind the voices of freedom here and the voices of freedom there," Romney said at the conference. "We will help Cuba become free."

The Florida primary has essentially become a two-man race between Romney and Gingrich. A poll released Friday showed the former Massachusetts governor ahead of the former House speaker in the Sunshine State, with former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Texas Rep. Ron Paul far behind.

The Quinnipiac University poll of likely voters taken after Thursday's debate showed Romney favored by 38 percent, Gingrich at 29 percent, Paul at 14 percent and Santorum with 12 percent. The margin of error was plus or minus 4.1 percent.

Romney elaborated on his Wednesday comment that he would, in his administration, task one person responsible for encouraging freedom and democracy in Latin America. 

The envoy, Romney said Friday, "would be given responsibility with budget and would be annually measured looking at each nation, are we making progress, are we falling behind."

Santorum was scheduled to make an early appearance Friday on NewsRadio 610 in Miami, followed by an afternoon stop at the Latin Builders Association conference at the Downtown Miami Hilton.

Santorum received the endorsement of the association, one of South Florida’s most powerful groups.

In his speech, he talked about how his grandfather left Italy because of Benito Mussolini, then came and worked hard in this country.

“Cuban communities feel like my home where I grew up with a close-knit ethnic community," he said. "The Cuban community believes in family. Theres a small business atmosphere in the Cuban community."

Santorum said both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations have ignored Latin America, but said it is a passionate issue for him. As president, he said, he would look forward to working with the people of Latin America's "financial capital."

Gingrich told the Latin Builders Association conference, "I would like a Cuban Spring in 2013 to help the people of Cuba," echoing comments he made in Miami on Wednesday.

Gingrich said he would support a new version of the Dream Act – a pathway to residency for members of the military – but not college students.

"Because I think the American people are very prepared to allow someone to earn citizenship by serving the country," he said. "I think it's harder for the average American to agree that the simple act of going to school achieves the same thing."

He was scheduled to attend a Republican Jewish Coalition rally in Delray Beach later Friday.

Paul, who is mostly focusing on smaller states, had no scheduled events in Florida Friday.

Thursday night's debate from Jacksonville proved to be feisty between Romney and Gingrich, especially when immigration was the topic.

Romney was the aggressor, pressing Gingrich to apologize for an ad labeling him as anti-immigrant and calling the idea "repulsive."

Moments after the debate opened, Gingrich responded to a question by saying Romney was the most anti-immigrant of all four contenders on stage. "That's simply inexcusable," the former Massachusetts governor responded.
Gingrich fired back that Romney misled voters by running an ad accusing the former House speaker of once referring to Spanish as "the language of the ghetto." Gingrich claimed he was referring to a multitude of languages, not just Spanish.
Romney initially said, "I doubt it's mine," but moderator Wolf Blitzer pointed out that Romney, at the ad's conclusion, says he approved the message.
Gingrich rushed out an ad using debate footage that raised questions about Romney's credibility, including his ownership of the language-driven commercial. "If we can't trust Romney in a debate, how can we trust him in the White House,'' a narrator says in the Gingrich ad.

Florida has roughly 1.5 million Hispanic voters, who figure to play prominently in the Jan. 31 primary.

While the clashes between Gingrich and Romney dominated, Santorum drew applause when he called on the front-runners to stop attacking one another and "focus on the issues."
"Can we set aside that Newt was a member of Congress ... and that Mitt Romney is a wealthy guy?" he said in a tone of exasperation.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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