Rubio, Meek Celebrate Cuban Independence Day With Appeal For More Cash

Yesterday was Cuban independence day, a holiday as ignored by Cubans as President's Day is by Americans. But for every Florida politician with an election coming up, it was the perfect opportunity to suck up to the pickiest voting bloc in the state.

The three enemigos -- Charlie Crist, Marco Rubio and Kendrick Meek -- all released press releases praising exiles and damning the regime.

The question is, will the pandering work? How much money have the Senate candidates raised from Cuban Americans anyway? A lot, the most recent Federal Election Committee filings show, but for the least expected Senate hopeful.

The governor's office kicked off the day with heart-tugging conventional wisdom: "Our Cuban neighbors continue to face another struggle for freedom under the current dictatorship." Then Rubio piled on: "This anniversary is a poignant reminder of the work that must be done to support Cubans who simply long to be independent from oppression."

It was Meek, though, who delivered the most clued-in statement, name-checking Zapata Tamayo, the dissident who died in a hunger strike earlier this year: "We remember the brave men and women who resist the iron fist of the Castro regime." Though Cuban Americans historically swing conservative, the congressman has furiously courted them. The result: last year he was ranked fifth in a list of Florida politicians who received the most contributions from Cuban-American PACs, behind the Diaz-Balart brothers and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

In the last two election quarters, US-Cuba Democracy, Cuban-Americans' most active political action committee, has given him $7,500. Since 2004, it's added $18,000 to his campaign coffers. And that's not including individual donations by its board members.

Jorge Mas Santos has supported him since 2006, and last year he gave Meek $2,400. Mas Santos is the leader of the Cuban American National Foundation and son of the dead sultan of the exile community, Jorge Mas Canosa. Also, last year, Ramon Mas Canosa, brother of Jorge Mas Sr., and Pedro Munilla, the powerful Cuban-American CEO of MCM Constructions, gave Meek $1,000 and $2,400, respectively.

As we reported in February, Rubio, who should have Cubans in the bag, has faltered. Since then, he's not done much better. The most recent FEC filings show only Mas Santos has continued supporting him, with a $2,400 contribution in March. The US-Cuba PAC has yet to donate to his Senate campaign. Munilla, instead, gave $2,400 to Charlie Crist in September.

Still, for Rubio, it may not even be necessary to capture the Cuban vote. As the conservative National Journal pointed out in March, "his most strident supporters have largely been white conservatives -- including Tea Partiers nationally."

[erik.maza@miaminewtimes.com | on twitter]

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