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Will Ryan’s record on Cuba hurt Romney in Florida?

Will Ryan’s record on Cuba hurt Romney in Florida?

One area where Paul Ryan has strayed from GOP orthodoxy is his stance on Cuba, as the Miami Herald explains

The Wisconsin Congressman has voted at least three times in opposition to the embargo. A handful of current and former Republican Cuban-American lawmakers, who didn’t want to be identified for fear of bucking their own party, told The Miami Herald that Ryan’s record on the Cuban embargo might disappoint Cuban voters, who comprise 72 percent of the GOP electorate in Miami-Dade, Florida’s largest county.

James Fallows cheers. The Herald  asks whether this, combined with disappointment that Marco Rubio wasn’t added to the ticket, could hurt Romney in Florida. “How could you pass over Marco and pick someone who’s anti-embargo?”asks one of the anonymous operatives . “This might snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.”

That seems pretty doubtful, judging from the reaction of the CubaCon blogosphere. Capitol Hill Cubans notes that while Ryan entered congress as  "an unconditional free trader," he has "evolved" on this issue: 

In 2007, Ryan voted against an amendment to the Farm Bill by U.S. Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) that sought to ease financing and other restrictions on trade with the Castro regime.

That same year, he opposed efforts to cut funding for Cuba democracy programs.

Moreover, Ryan publicly withdrew his name from a bill seeking to allow unfettered travel between the U.S. and Cuba.

Since then, Ryan has consistently opposed Congressional efforts to unconditionally lift sanctions towards Cuba. 

Former congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart gave a similar narrative

“He was a free-trader and we explained to him the human-rights and terrorist record of the Cuban dictatorship,” Diaz-Balart said. “His record ever since is one of a strong supporter for freedom in Cuba. He is a strong ally."

Of course, this ignores the fact that in 2009, Ryan told a newspaper interviewer, "If we’re going to have free trade with China, why not Cuba?" If Ryan really has evolved on Cuba, is it more believable that he didn’t know the country was a repressive dictatorship until Lincoln Diaz-Balart explained it to him or that at a certain point he decided this might be one area where it would be prudent to compromise his free-market principles?

But it still seems unlikely that this will matter all that much. The Cuban voters for whom the embargo is a major deciding factor will likely come around to Ryan because, well, the alternative is voting for Barack Obama. As Henry Louis Gomez of the hardline pro-embargo Babalu Blog writes:

The alternative in Obama/Biden is not an alternative for anyone who wants a hard line against the castro brothers. 

All the same, it won’t be surprising if we see Ryan downing a few extra cafés con leche at Versailles while explaining himself over the next few weeks.