We all know Florida's 29 winner-take-all electoral votes are of critical importance in the Nov. 6 presidential election.
So it was impossible to understand the amateurish shambles that Mitt Romney's campaign made of the candidate's visit to Cuban Miami this week, supposedly to solidify and expand Hispanic voter support.
Romney eschewed the traditional and safe location for ritualistic campaign visits in Little Havana, the long-famous Versailles Restaurant on centric Calle Ocho. Instead, the campaign selected a restaurant and fruit market five miles west called "El Palacio de los Jugos," or "the Juice Palace." Campaign spokesperson Ana Carbonell said the Juice Palace was selected to highlight Romney's support for small businesses.
It turned out, however, as disclosed by reporter Francisco Alvarado in the Miami New Times, that the owner of the Juice Palace, Reinaldo "Rey" Bermudez, 51, is a convicted felon, a cocaine smuggler who served three years in prison after a 1999 conviction. Bermudez was born in Cuba and is a naturalized U.S. citizen.
As a result, almost all the news coverage focused on the "controversy" over the felon small businessman. A typical headline, in Toronto's Globe and Mail, said: "Romney's host at Miami campaign event turns out to be convicted cocaine trafficker." No one from the Romney Campaign could be found to comment on whether they knew in advance about Bermudez's criminal record.
While the outdoor event was scheduled to take place between 3 and 5 p.m. on a cloudless afternoon with sustained scorching heat above 90, Romney and his "Believe in America" bus did not show up until 6 p.m. As a result of the long wait, 10 people in the audience of several hundred mostly older people required emergency medical assistance. Nonetheless, all others gave Romney an enthusiastic reception.
The Romney Campaign also failed to effectively communicate that admission tickets were required to attend, and hundreds of interested persons were turned away. One white-haired Hispanic man told a television news reporter that he had contributed money to the Romney campaign and was "furious" that they hadn't let him attend the rally.
Romney spoke patronizing platitudes by rote for 10 minutes and failed to address any substantive issues of likely interest to the largely Cuban-American and Hispanic audience. These could have included U.S. relations with the Castro regime in Cuba, Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua; future U.S. immigration policy; making English the nation's official language; and possible changes to Social Security and Medicare.
Finally, while his running mate, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, was conveniently in faraway Iowa, Romney left it to former Republican congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart of Miami to explain to the crowd the very recent evolution of Ryan's views on Cuba policy. Diaz-Balart, a Cuban-American, said that Ryan, a well-known opponent of the Cuban embargo, "now is our ally in our cause for the freedom of Cuba."
If Romney and his staff wanted to make clear that they take the Cuban-American vote for granted, and that this visit was of no consequence to them, they scored an overwhelming success at the Juice Palace.
Of course, Romney will not be able to receive a vote from Rey Bermudez unless Florida's Republican governor, Rick Scott, restores his civil rights before November 6.
Angel Castillo, Jr., a former reporter and editor for the New York Times and The Miami Herald, practices employment law in Miami. He can be reached at email@example.com.