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Cuban-Americans favor Romney in Florida

HIALEAH, Fla. -- If Mitt Romney wins Tuesday's primary, a sliver of the GOP electorate in Florida may be a big reason.

Cuban-Americans are deeply committed voters, and Romney has strong support in the Cuban-American establishment.

Older exiles also tend to vote heavily through absentee ballots, in which the former Massachusetts governor seems to have an edge. And the candidate's emphasis on fixing the economy is resonating with backers like Jesus Ovidez, who cares more about jobs than he does U.S. policy toward Cuba.

"When we are in a better position here, then we can worry about over there. But first you have to put your own house in order," said Ovidez, who spent months in a forced labor camp before fleeing in the late 1960s.

Ovidez has been a co-owner of Chico Restaurant in the heavily Cuban-American community of Hialeah, north of Miami, for more than 30 years. He said Romney's emphasis on the economy as one of the main reasons he already has cast his vote for the former businessman.

"There's no money. People don't go out to eat any more," Ovidez said. Maybe, he said, Romney can help change that. Plus, Ovidez argued, Romney, a millionaire, is the only Republican who can beat President Barack Obama.

During the past week, a series of polls have shown Romney pulling ahead of chief challenger Newt Gingrich in the run-up to the primary.

Roughly 11.1 percent of registered Republicans in Florida are Hispanic. And of all Hispanic voters in the state, 32.1 percent are Cuban, 28.4 percent Puerto Rican and 25 percent come mostly from Central and South America, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, which cites the Florida Division of Elections.

Generally, Cuban-American voters have the highest turnout rates. In 2008, they helped John McCain win the primary over Romney, who lost heavily in Miami-Dade, where this voting group is most concentrated.

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