MIAMI — Paul Ryan, flanked by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney’s son Craig, greeted a boisterous crowd of voters at a packed Cuban restaurant here at an event targeted heavily at Hispanic and specifically Cuban-American voters and told them a Romney-Ryan administration would be “tough” on Fidel Castro.
“Let me tell you this, in a Mitt Romney administration we will not keep practicing this policy of appeasement, we will be tough on this brutal dictator, all it has done is reward more despotism … and we will help those pro-democracy groups,” Ryan said. ”We will be tough on (former Cuban president Fidel) Castro, tough on (Venezuelan President Hugo) Chavez. And it’s because we know that’s the right policy for our country.”
At the famed Versailles restaurant, Ryan stood in front of a sign that read “Juntos con Romney” or “Together with Romney,” and the GOP vice presidential nominee said his friends in Congress, including Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart, who joined him, gave him “a great education” about “how we need to clamp down on the Castro regime.” Cuban-American voters tend to be more conservative than other Hispanic groups.
Both the Romney and Obama campaigns are heavily investing time and resources in this state. They were both here last week and appeared separately at a “Meet the Candidates” Univision forum. It was at that forum that the president made comments that both Romney and now Ryan have jumped on, saying they show the president has resigned to not being able to change Washington the way he promised to four years ago.
“The other side of the hope equation, which is farther from us, was the change equation,” Ryan said. “Just a couple days ago on Univision, President Obama admitted that he can’t change Washington from the inside. Why do we send presidents to the White House in the first place? I mean, we send presidents to change and fix the mess in Washington. And if this president has admitted that he can’t change Washington, then you know what, we need to change presidents.”
When Ryan mentioned the president’s comments, Bush turned to Ryan’s mother Betty Douglas who was also there and told her what Obama said was “outrageous.”
Romney made similar comments during his last run for the presidency during the 2008 election.
Florida is a crucial battleground state for both camps and Ryan acknowledged that point, telling the crowd they “have a big say so.” A Wall Street Journal/NBC News/Marist poll from earlier this month found Obama leading Romney in the state 49 percent to 44 percent. In the latest Gallup poll, registered Hispanic voters favored the president over Romney 66 percent to 26 percent.
Both campaigns have invested heavily in Spanish language advertising in the state and Craig Romney is often the face and voice appearing in his father’s ads. He is fluent in Spanish after learning it on his Mormon mission to Chile.
Everyone who addressed the heavily Cuban-American crowd before Ryan, including Craig Romney, Bush and Ros-Lehtinen, spoke in both Spanish and English, making the event — aside from Ryan’s remarks — almost bilingual.
Most of the patrons were enthusiastic to see Romney’s running mate, bursting into a rendition of “God Bless America” when he walked into the room, and many clamored to shake his hand.
A few protesters in the back of the restaurant who broke into chants of “Obama” before Ryan took the stage, but they were quickly shouted down with chants of “USA.”
The youngest Romney son spoke before the former governor, and Bush said he’s “a great example for the Romney family” and said that those family ideals are what is needed in the White House.
“Family matters a lot for all of us, and a guy can’t be that bad when he’s got a beautiful wife, great kids, he loves his family more than anybody could ever describe,” Bush said. “That is what we need in the White House. We need a good family person and that’s what Mitt Romney is.”
Bush added that he is “sick and tired of an America that has a cloud of pessimism over it” and said the GOP ticket can “lift the spirits” of the country.
The brother of former President George. W. Bush and son of former President H.W. Bush joked with Ryan, noting the torrential Florida weather raging outside of the restaurant, using the Spanish word for downpour.
“I need to teach Paul one word in Spanish,” Bush said, wearing a traditional Cuban shirt called a guyabera. “He comes from Wisconsin, where this would be a beautiful day in Wisconsin in November or December… Here we call this una aguacera. This was just a little tropical rainstorm.”
Ryan, Bush, Romney, and Ros-Lehtinen ordered traditional cuban coffee when they arrived at Versailles. Ryan made sure to pay, quipping, “I’ve got to pay … we’re in Congress, we’ve got to pay.”
This post has been updated.