Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney received a warm, Cuban-American welcome -- complete with the requisite lechón -- Sunday afternoon in Hialeah, Miami-Dade County's most heavily Hispanic, Republican stronghold.
Speaking to a crowd of a couple hundred outside Casa Marin, a traditional Hialeah political spot, Romney spoke about his love for his family, the military, freedom and the United States, repeating important themes for older, Cuban-American voters that form the base of Miami-Dade's Hispanic Republican electorate.
"Gifts to people who are fundamentally evil are always accepted and never returned," Romney said, criticizing President Barack Obama's policy toward Cuba, which allowed for more remittances and travel to the island.
The president is full of "excuses" for the stalled economy, Romney said -- and accused his chief GOP primary rival, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, of relying on "excuses" to justify his apparently slowing momentum in Florida.
"The reason you find it hard to connect to the speaker is you know the past 15 years he's been working in Washington," Romney said. "You want someone who is not part of Washington."
Before his 10-minute speech, Romney was introduced by his wife, Ann, who spoke about the importance of family, and their youngest son, Craig, who has appeared with Romney all week, speaking Spanish to the Hispanic crowds. "My father doesn't speak Spanish," Craig Romney said in Spanish. "But he does speak the language of the economy."
After the speech, Romney stepped into the packed Casa Marin restaurant, where another hundred people or so waited. As he entered the restaurant, several older gentlemen played their guitars and sang Guantanamera.
Romney was invited to carve a slow-roasted, suckling pig -- Cuban lechón -- which he did, with a knife and tongs. He posed for photos next to the pig and gave a bite to U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Then Romney signed autographs and worked the room, where folks could not be persuaded to remain seated. He blew a kiss to a woman who blew one at him first. Another woman carried an "Arriba con Mitt" (Up with Mitt) sign. A third woman said it was "unfair" when Romney did not come to her table.
Romney had been welcomed by a gaggle of Hialeah Republicans, including Mayor Carlos Hernandez, most city council members and former state Sen. Rudy Garcia. Also on stage with Romney: Ros-Lehtinen, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, former Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Reps. Connie Mack and Mary Bono Mack.
Lincoln Diaz-Balart told reporters before Romney's speech that Hispanics who favored Romney's rival, John McCain, in 2008 would this time cast their ballots for Romney. "People have gotten to know him. They know that he is our friend," he said. "They trust Ileana, Mario and me. They know that he is listening to us."