While the seven Democratic candidates for president made appearances at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials conference on Saturday, the Republican contenders suffered from a mysterious case of scheduling conflictitis: of all the GOP candidates, only Duncan Hunter managed to make it to Orlando for the event. It was left to Florida Senator and RNC Chair Mel Martinez to make the excuses:
"When you're running a campaign, it is difficult to be everywhere you want to be," he said. He called it "wrong and unacceptable to draw from that the conclusion that the Republican presidential candidates don't care about the Hispanic vote or Latinos in this country. … As this campaign unfolds, I think that will become completely clear."
Asked about the harsh opposition to the immigration bill by several of the GOP candidates, including Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and Thompson, he said, "This is a very politically toxic issue, and those that are running for office sometimes run away from tough problems."
In Florida, Republican-leaning, anti-Castro Cubans have long dominated Hispanic politics, and most big-name Hispanic politicians are Republican. But Democrats see hope in the growing proportion of non-Cubans and in the generational erosion of Republican dominance among Cuban immigrants.
While Republicans are "conceding the Latino vote in Florida to Democrats," the Democratic candidates are "fully recognizing the importance of the Latino community in Florida and nationally," trumpeted a state Democratic Party press release about the candidates' forums at the conference.