BY BETH REINHARD
In the first big endorsement from the nation's biggest battleground state, Florida's three Cuban-American members of Congress announced Wednesday that they will back Republican Sen. John McCain for president.
U.S. Reps. Lincoln and Mario Díaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, all Miami Republicans, are taking sides at least one year before Florida's presidential primary. A fast-tracked bill in the state Legislature would bump the primary from March to the last Tuesday in January, possibly making Florida the first state in the South to vote.
McCain's campaign has already tapped a Miami political consulting team who worked for Gov. Charlie Crist's campaign, Carlos Curbelo and Danny Lopez, to organize events and conduct Hispanic outreach.
Ros-Lehtinen and the Díaz-Balart brothers backed different candidates in the 2006 and 2004 Republican primaries for governor and U.S. Senate, so their unified support for McCain carries added punch. They joined a group of GOP donors who met privately with McCain at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables last weekend.
Roughly 40 percent of Hispanic voters, an ever-growing voting bloc, helped President Bush defeat Democratic nominee John Kerry in 2004.
''John McCain is strong on national defense and the security of the homeland, yet at same time he is sensitive to the needs of the nation domestically,'' Ros-Lehtinen said. ``He also understands the threats of the Castro regime.''
The Arizona senator, a prisoner of war in Vietnam, spearheaded efforts to lift sanctions against the communist regime in Cuba (sic, see below). When he ran for president in 2000, he said he would consider easing the embargo against Cuba only if it released political prisoners and changed other repressive policies.
• An article in Thursday's Metro and Broward sections about U.S. Sen. John McCain getting the endorsement of three Cuban-American members of Congress in his campaign for the presidency incorrectly portrayed his position on the embargo against Cuba. McCain, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam, advocated lifting U.S. sanctions against the Vietnamese government. But he has consistently opposed lifting sanctions against the government of Fidel Castro unless it releases political prisoners and changes other repressive policies. The error was made by the copy-editing desk.
Posted on Fri, Feb. 02, 2007 Miami Herald