A loose Mitt Romney, clearly riding a wave from his performance in Thursday night's Jacksonville debate, energized a friendly crowd at the Hispanic Leadership Network conference in Doral, where the audience was clearly happier to see Romney than Newt Gingrich about an hour earlier.
"I thought it was a delightful debate," Romney said as he took the microphone. "I loved it!"
He was introduced by the youngest of his five sons, Craig, who speaks Spanish after spending some time in Chile. (He is frequently featured on Romney's Spanish-language ads.) The son delighted the crowd by introducing his own son, Parker, and saying Romney "será un presidente excelente" -- will be an excellent president. Ann Romney then introduced her husband.
Romney received several sustained rounds of applause, and a standing ovation about 20 minutes into his half-hour speech when he pledged, "We will help Cuba become free."
He also said he would appoint a presidential envoy responsible for democracy and freedom in Latin America. And he went further than Gingrich on Puerto Rico, saying he hoped Puerto Ricans would follow the lead of Gov. Luis Fortuño and vote for statehood for the island. Fortuño, who was at the conference earlier Friday, is rumored to be backing Romney, though the governor was cagey when approached by a reporter asking him about the endorsement.
"I expect the peopke of Puerto Rico will decide -- like he feels -- they want to become a state," Romney said.
In a clear move to appeal to Fortuño, Romney spoke about drug trafficking. Fortuño is scheduled to appear with Sen. Marco Rubio later Friday to address that very topic in Miami.
"We are not a good example in this regard," Romney said, adding that the U.S. should teach Americans about the consequences of drug use, an argument he has made in Spanish-language interviews in Miami. "Stop taking drugs, because they're killing people," he added, calling for a hemispheric task force on drugs.
On immigration, Romney made refence to a Gingrich attack ad Rubio and others derided, and declared, "We are not anti-immigrant. We are not anti-immigration. We are the pro-immigration, pro-legality, pro-citizenship nation." The crowd applauded and whisteled.
The 11 million people in the country in here illegally already should be given a temporary status and then have to return to their home countries to apply for citizenship, Romney said. "Other people call that self-deportation," he said. "We're not going to go out and round people in buses and send them home."
Romney said he intends to fight for the 4.5 million people waiting to come to the U.S. legally.
"I want them to get here. I'd like to see a transparent process," he said. "I'd like them to be able to go on the internet and see where they stand."
And he spoke about letting employers find out if workers are illegal, the kind of e-Verify-dependent proposal that died last year in the Florida Legislature. "I will crack down aggressively on those employers just like we do on companies that don't pay their taxes," he said.
Finally, Romney spoke about unemployment and the economy, citing the 11 percent jobless rate for Hispanics nationwide. "This is a failed presidency," Romney said of President Barack Obama. "He did not cause a recession, but he made it worse."