MIAMI – Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich made their pitches to two important Florida constituencies on Wednesday, with the former Massachusetts governor openly wishing for Fidel Castro’s death in remarks to a crowd of Cuban-Americans and the former House speaker appealing to tea party voters but getting heckled for his insider’s job with Freddie Mac before running for president.
Speaking to the U.S.-Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee, Romney was so eager to share the crowd’s antipathy toward Castro that he sounded like he was ready to invade Cuba before making it clear he just hoped that the elderly former leader would die soon.
“If I’m fortunate to become the next president of the United States, it is my expectation that Fidel Castro will finally be taken off this planet,” Romney said. “I doubt he’ll take any time in the sky. He’ll find a nether region to be more to his comfort.”
Romney then clarified that he had no intention of personally doing Castro harm. Romney added, “This is a critical time. … We’ve waited a long, long time for the opportunity that is represented by a new president, and by new leadership, or by old leadership finally kicking the bucket in Cuba. And I want to take advantage -- I want to be the American president that is proud to be able to say that I was president at the time that we brought freedom back to the people of Cuba.”
Romney told the crowd of about 300 at the Miami Freedom Tower that he disagreed with the Obama administration’s policies of easing sanctions on Cuba, such as allowing more travel to the island communist nation and more exchanges of money with Cubans living in the United States. He called those policies a bad bargain.
“We have a president who thinks that a tyrant, that a person who considers America their enemy, that that tyrant will give him something, just by virtue of us giving them something,” Romney said. “ … Negotiations are not a matter of giving and hope. They're a matter of giving and getting in return.”
Gingrich campaigned along the Florida coast on Wednesday, and at a stop in Coral Springs he was reminded that the Freddie Mac controversy is not yet behind him. A heckler interrupted him several times to challenge his relationship with the mortgage giant, which paid Gingrich more than $1.6 million in “consulting” fees over eight years after he left Congress in 1999.
“Newt, do you work for the people or for Freddie Mac?” she shouted. “You worked for Freddie Mac, you are a lobbyist, and you are supported by millionaires.”
Gingrich replied, “This is a free country. People are allowed to come and be noisy. It is part of the American tradition.”
He defended his multiyear contracts with the quasi-government mortgage provider, saying, “I just want to say for the record, I don’t know if this lady wants to listen but I will say to the rest of you for the record, if you go to the July 2008 New York Times, you will see the only reference to my talking to Congress about Freddie Mac. I told the House Republicans to vote no for giving them any more money. I was opposed to giving them any more money. And that is a fact.”
Gingrich’s comment was applauded by the crowd, which included many tea party supporters. In other portions of his remarks, he hit themes that are popular with the tea party, including criticism of the mainstream media and contrasting a Gingrich “paycheck” presidency with a Barack Obama “food stamp” presidency.