Kelvin Soto, a Kissimmee lawyer who largely grew up in Puerto Rico, agrees that Romney "has done a very good job" of toning down contentious comments from the GOP primary, such as when he criticized Texas' policy of granting in-state college tuition to illegal immigrants. What most of his Hispanic friends recall, Soto said, is that Romney has promised to create 12 million jobs.
"People don't want to investigate it, because they fear it might not be true," said Soto, an Osceola County school board candidate who was campaigning Saturday at an early voting site.
Calvin Gutierrez, 18, said most of his friends support Obama, "but the economic situation has gotten worse," and many are unenthusiastic. "There are a few who have stopped supporting him," although they're unlikely to vote for Romney, said Gutierrez, a college freshman hoping to go into medicine.
Two former Florida Republican governors, Bob Martinez and Jeb Bush, said in interviews Saturday that Romney is making good inroads among Hispanics, including Puerto Ricans. They said these voters question why Obama didn't push for immigration reform when Democrats controlled Congress in his first two years as president, Bush said.
Martinez, a Tampa native whose ancestors came from Spain, said "Hispanic" covers a wide array of Floridians with ties to Cuba, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Mexico and other places. They have different traditions, needs and motivations, he said, and no one-size-fits-all campaign approach will work.
Many Latinos work in the hard-hit construction and landscaping industries, he said. "The common denominator for everybody is the economy," Martinez said. "There's a passion in this election I've not seen in a long time," he said, and Romney is benefiting.
Christina Martinez, 42, is a Puerto Rican Floridian sticking with Obama. He deserves more time to heal the economy she said as she waited to vote in Kissimmee on Saturday, the last day of early voting in Florida.
Martinez has four daughters and one grandson, and she doesn't like Romney's record on women's rights, Medicaid, education or the economy. As for Obama, she said, "I think he did great."
Martinez and others who live in struggling, largely Spanish-speaking communities may tip the balance for or against Obama in this, the biggest tossup state of all.
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