Sounding hoarse after a grueling three days of campaigning since announcing Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate, Romney delivered an abbreviated speech lasting about 10 minutes.
"If I become the next president and Paul Ryan becomes the next vice president we will do everything in our power to make America strong, with strong homes and strong values. We'll cling to the principles of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. We'll go to work to improve the economy," he said. "Better days are ahead."
He frequently sounded patriotic themes: "We're going to make America more and more like America," he said, reminding the crowd that the U.S. won more Olympic medals than any other nation at the recently concluded London Games.
The crowd cheered when Romney mentioned Ryan, though his No. 2 was nowhere to be seen. After spending the weekend as a campaign duo in the battleground states of Virginia and North Carolina, they were apart Monday, with Ryan campaigning in Iowa.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, of Weston, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, said Florida was a "no-fly zone" for Ryan because his plans to radically reshape the Medicare program wouldn't sit well with the Sunshine State's senior voters. With Democrats fueling the notion that Ryan is toxic in Florida, the Romney campaign put out an unusually early notice that Ryan would indeed campaign in central Florida next weekend.
In Miami-Dade County, Romney mentioned Ryan just once, but lavished praise on U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. — whom he passed over by selecting Ryan as his vice presidential candidate. "Look at Marco Rubio. What an extraordinary leader and example," he said. "That's the American dream. We want to restore that American dream."
Rubio, who lives in West Miami, minutes from the site of the rally, arrived on the bus with Romney after a brief trip. Though their previous "bus tour" stop was in St. Augustine, Romney & Co. flew from there to South Florida, then took the bus from the airport.
The crowd topped 2,000 and a campaign aide said another 1,000 couldn't get in. Many people began arriving before 3 p.m. and Romney didn't arrive until almost 6, but voters said it was worth the wait. Still, Miami-Dade fire rescue took away several people on stretchers who apparently were overcome by the heat.
"I strongly believe in what Mitt Romney stands for and I even more strongly believe in what Paul Ryan stands for," said Terrie Lain, 43, of Miami, whose parents emigrated from Cuba. "It's shameful what this president has done to this economy. … There is no way we're going to let this happen again."
Jose Lopez, 37, an independent voter, went for Obama in 2008, but he's an enthusiastic Romney backer this year.
"He's better able to handle the economy," said the financial analyst, who came to the United States from Venezuela 16 years ago. "He has all the qualifications. He knows how to manage companies. He knows how to manage a budget. He has all the tools to make it happen."
On Monday, the Romney and Obama campaigns were operating at full throttle in Florida, which will award 29 electoral votes, more than 10 percent of the 270 needed to win the presidency, making it the biggest swing state in the country.
Romney was targeting Hispanic voters, who are critical in Florida, at the Miami-Dade County event. A large "Juntos con Romney" sign, which means "together with Romney," was next to the stage at the the open-air restaurant El Palacio de los Jugos, which means juice palace. He did an interview with Spanish-language radio. One of Romney's sons addressed the crowd in Spanish.
And just before Romney arrived, former U.S. Rep.Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, did some damage control with the largely Hispanic audience. Ryan, the new running mate, has voted to overturn the trade embargo against Cuba, a position that's heresy in Miami's Cuban-American community. But Diaz-Balart vouched that Ryan is a "friend of the cause of freedom in Cuba."
For its part, the Obama campaign wasn't about to make it easy for Romney to portray himself as a friend of the middle class. To drive home their point, the Democrats deployed their own bus to shadow Romney on his bus tour.
When the bus stopped in Boca Raton, Wasserman Schultz said Romney and Ryan's plans to cut taxes for the rich while cutting back on Medicare and other federal programs are among "the same failed economic policies" that led to the national recession. Wasserman Schultz said Romney and Ryan back "top-down economic strategies that have thrown middle-class families under the bus."
About 15 sign-waving supporters greeted the Democrats' bus in Boca. The messages, on signs passed out by Democratic Party representatives, included "Bad for the middle class" and "Romney Economics: Throw the middle class under the bus."
Retired teacher and Obama campaign volunteer Fran Goldenberg said she was there to show her "disgust at the Romney-Ryan plan." Goldenberg said that beyond proposed changes to Medicare, she worries about health care reform and corporate influence over government.
"I'm concerned in the direction that the Republicans are taking our country…the tenor of how American politics and American life is going," Goldenberg said.
At the Romney rally in Miami-Dade County, Lynne Kaplan of Miami was hovering near the entrance line wearing an Obama T-shirt and holding a sign proclaiming, "Grandma, your dinner's ready." It showed a plate of dog food.
Across the street, about 50 anti-Romney protesters gathered, with several holding signs from the liberal activist group moveon.org. A woman with a bullhorn repeatedly proclaimed, "We are the 99 percent."
After his speech, Romney shook hands, then handed out some juice and went inside to meet with the restaurant's owners.
That ended the focus on the middle class for the day.
After the Miami event, he was scheduled to attend a high-dollar fundraising event at the home of AutoNation chief operating officer Mike Maroone in Fort Lauderdale's Idlewyld neighborhood off Las Olas Boulevard. With tickets at $50,000 and an expected attendance of about 50, the event could take in $2.5 million.
A campaign aide said Romney would spend the night in Fort Lauderdale and head to another big swing state, Ohio, on Tuesday morning.
See the Obama campaign video welcoming Romney to Florida and the Romney campaign's response at SunSentinel.com/BrowardPolitics.
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