Ryan courts Cuban-Americans in Miami

Republican vice presidential candidate, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) share a laugh with waitress, Lourdes Alcerro, during a campaign stop at Versailles restaurant in the Little Havana neighborhood on September 22, 2012 in Miami, Florida.
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images
(CBS News) MIAMI - Seeking to bolster the Republican ticket with Latino voters, vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan pledged Saturday to be "tough on Castro, tough on Chavez," referring to Cuban and Venezuelan dictators Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez.

Though Ryan offered no details about how he and nominee Mitt Romney would change Cuba policy, the tough talk was enough to win him a hearty round of applause from supporters gathered at the Versailles Restaurant, a Miami staple on the presidential campaign trail.

A bevy of Spanish-speaking legislators from the state, including Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart and his brother, former Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, heaped praise on Ryan. Former Gov. Jeb Bush, and Craig Romney, the youngest of the five Romney boys and a fluent Spanish-speaker, were also on hand to warm up the crowd.

Ryan said his Cuban-American colleagues in Congress have taught him "just how brutal the Castro regime is, just how this president's policy of appeasement is not working."

"In a Mitt Romney administration, we will not keep practicing this policy of appeasement, we will be tough on this brutal dictator. All it has done is reward more despotism," Ryan said. "We will help those pro-democracy groups. We will be tough on Castro, tough on Chavez. And it's because we know that's the right policy for our country."

Romney took a similarly hard line against the Castro regime when he spoke to the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC here during the Florida primary in January, when he said he was anticipating Castro's death. Such rhetoric plays well with many in the Cuban-American community, who see President Obama's decision to lift the travel embargo on Cuba as benefiting Castro, because it helps the island nation's economy.

Although President Obama has consistently outperformed his GOP opponents with Hispanics in polls, Cuban-Americans are a more Republican-friendly voting bloc. Ros-Lehtinen and the Diaz-Balart brothers, prominent voices in the community, gave Romney an early boost with a November 2011 endorsement.

Mario Diaz-Balart, who has worked with Ryan on the House Budget Committee, said, "He's a person who understands what needs to get done. He is of great intellect and yet great humility." Ros-Lehtinen referred to Ryan as a "fiel amigo" - a loyal friend - on issues affecting Cuba.

Ryan also criticized Obama for saying on Thursday that a president can only change Washington from the outside, not the inside. Mr. Obama was referring to his perceived need to get the public on his side before trying to get Republicans in Congress to vote for his policies.

  • Rebecca Kaplan On Twitter»

    Rebecca Kaplan covers the 2012 presidential campaign for CBS News and National Journal.

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