The Miami Herald
Fri, Apr. 16, 2004

Florida, Cuban-American vote are critical, says president's campaign team in Miami visit


With Democratic Presidential hopeful John Kerry coming to South Florida next week, President George W. Bush's campaign managers delivered a pre-emptive political strike in an exclusive interview Friday with the Herald.

Nicolle Devenish, communications director for the Bush campaign, and Mark Wallace, the campaign's deputy manager, underscored the importance of Florida in November's presidential race, and said they were counting on strong support in the Cuban American community.

Devenish quoted Bush political director Karl Rove and labeled Florida ''ground zero'' for the presidential race. But she stopped short of saying that Bush could not win without it.

''We need it,'' she said of the state. ``It's of critical importance.''

But, she said, ``I think we could win without Florida. I think it's hard.''

Wallace said Cuban American support remains important to Bush, and said said he did not worry about Kerry luring disenchanted Cuban Americans to his corner because of the Massachusettes Senator's poor anti-Castro record.

''This comes down to a choice,'' Devenish said. ``Do people really believe John Kerry is going to do more [for Cuba]?''

She said the Cuban Community is too smart to be deceived by what she labelled Kerry's ''political pandering'' to Cuban Americans.

She said Kerry got himself ''into a dangerous gray area'' when he said several weeks ago that he had voted for the anti-Castro Helms Burton legislation. He voted against it.

''That is the worst kind of local media pandering,'' she said.

Kerry spokesman Mark Kornblau said in an interview Thursday that Bush has failed to deliver on his Cuba promises.

''John Kerry believes strongly that Fidel Castro's regime is unacceptable,'' Kornblau said. ``He is going to work with Cuban Americans to find a more effective approach.''