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What Romney's Hispanic Support in Florida Means What Romney's Hispanic Support in Florida Means

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What Romney's Hispanic Support in Florida Means

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Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, campaigns at  Lanco Paint Company in Orlando, Fla., Friday, Jan. 27, 2012.  Romney and Gingrich square off over immigration and other issues as they look to woo Hispanics a day after a feisty, final debate before Tuesday’s Florida primary. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)(Charles Dharapak/AP)

The latest polls not only show Mitt Romney with a substantial lead in Florida but also with the lion's share of the Hispanic vote. A recent ABC News/Univision/Latino Decisions survey, for example, found Romney leading Newt Gingrich 35 to 20 percent among Hispanic voters. That's a major turnaround from 2008, when John McCain pounded Romney among Hispanic voters by 54 to 13 percent, according to exit polls.

How did Romney improve his standing with Hispanics in Florida? First of all, he started advertising on Spanish-language radio and television early and often. Many of his ads touted the support of three of the most prominent Hispanic Republicans in Florida -- U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart and former Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Those folks were all with McCain in 2008. Romney's singular focus on the economy and stronger campaign organization also helped. So did Sen. Marco Rubio, who says he is neutral but defended Romney against Gingrich's attack ad that called him "anti-immigrant.''

And while Romney has taken a hardline stance against illegal immigration -- even saying he would veto the DREAM Act when he was in Iowa -- he softened his position on that legislation in last week's debate in Tampa.

But here comes the rub: While Romney's expected success with Hispanic voters on Tuesday is a good sign for his prospects of taking the state in the general election, it may not translate to other swing states like Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada. That's because the Hispanic vote in a Florida Republican race is unique and overwhelmingly Cuban-American. In a general election, the Hispanic vote will include substantial numbers of Puerto-Ricans, Mexicans and other Latin Americans -- who favored Barack Obama in 2008.

Perhaps that's why Romney -- always looking ahead to the general -- scheduled a big rally in Orlando last week with Puerto Rico Gov. Lois Fortuno. The crowd was estimated at 1,000. Don't be surprised to see scenes from that rally in a general election spot.

UPDATE: Got an e-mail from Democratic consultant Steve Schale, who ran Obama's winning campaign in Florida, who notes that McCain winning the Hispanic vote (and Florida) in the GOP primary in 2008 didn't stop him from losing the state to Obama in the general election.

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