Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

The race to define Ryan in Florida

By Ana Navarro, CNN Contributor
August 15, 2012 -- Updated 1934 GMT (0334 HKT)
Ana Navarro says that Rep. Paul Ryan's effect in Florida depends primarily on two voting groups: seniors and Hispanics.
Ana Navarro says that Rep. Paul Ryan's effect in Florida depends primarily on two voting groups: seniors and Hispanics.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Paul Ryan's effect in Florida depends mostly on seniors and Hispanics, says Ana Navarro
  • During his visit to Florida this weekend, Ryan needs to clearly define himself, she says
  • Democrats and Republicans will wage a Medicare battle in Florida, she says
  • Navarro: Ryan needs to make his feelings about immigration and Cuba explicit

Editor's note: Ana Navarro, Republican strategist and commentator, served as national Hispanic campaign chairwoman for John McCain in 2008 and national Hispanic co-chair for Jon Huntsman's 2012 campaign. Follow her on Twitter @ananavarro.

(CNN) -- The Veepstakes guessing game is over.

In the red corner, we have Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, America's "comeback team." In the blue corner, we have Barack Obama and Joe Biden, America's current team. Let's get ready to rumble.

Now that we know who the players are, the race is on to define Paul Ryan. Winning the contest of turning him into either a villain or hero could determine the election in several states, none more important than Florida, the big kid on the swing-state block. Paul Ryan has great potential, the potential to be an asset or a liability to the Republican ticket. How he affects the election in Florida depends primarily on two voting groups, seniors and Hispanics.

We just don't know how he will play with those two groups. Polls show that most Americans don't know much about Rep. Paul Ryan. Political junkies either love or hate the Ryan Plan, but average Americans are more likely to be conversant on the latest contestants on "Dancing with the Stars" than on the intricacies of Ryan's budget proposal.

Ana Navarro
Ana Navarro

The day after Ryan's selection was unveiled, headlines in the major Florida papers predicted Ryan could be a drag on the Republican ticket. The Romney campaign soon announced Ryan would visit Florida this next weekend. Ryan needs to clearly and unequivocally define himself.

There will be a Medicare battle waged in Florida, a state with one of the biggest senior populations in the country. Democrats will say Ryan will end Medicare as we know it. Republicans will say he is a courageous leader who offers a responsible solution to the inevitable bankruptcy of Medicare and Social Security.

I live in Florida and have seen this movie before. It usually involves scary robo-calls and political mailers targeting seniors.

Opinion: Does Ryan Medicare plan make sense?

Ryan's first interview as VP candidate
Fact checking Ryan's Medicare plan
Voters react to Ryan VP pick

While in Florida, he should also do Hispanic outreach. Latinos don't know Ryan from Adán. Given the standing of the Republican brand with Latinos, that may be a good thing. Not being known is better than being disliked.

Soon after Ryan was named, my inbox filled up with e-mails about his vote against the Dream Act, which would allow undocumented young people brought here as children to become legal under certain circumstances. This is a popular and emotion-laden measure among Latinos. Ryan had also been an opponent of the U.S. embargo against Cuba. This is a heresy for a dependable voting block of Cuban-American Republicans. Yikes!

One of the negatives of a running mate with a long career in Congress is having to defend and explain an extensive voting record. This can be a challenge, but not an insurmountable one.

Though Ryan voted against the Dream Act, he has not engaged in angry rhetoric towards immigrants or been a champion one way or another on immigration issues. He has not built his career by fanning anti-immigrant flames. Many in Congress, including Democrats, voted against the Dream Act. However, that vote makes him the only one of the four names on the ballot to have cast a vote against it.

I don't know, and I suspect others don't either, if Ryan supports some other legal recourse for undocumented students and adults. He should tell us if he does before Democrats use his immigration votes to drive a wedge with the Latino community.

Yes, Ryan voted in the past against the Cuban embargo. He comes from the Midwest, where the thought of selling farm goods to the island is appealing. His Cuban-American colleagues from Miami, including Congressmen Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart, say Ryan had a genuine conversion after they sat down with him and explained the realities of the totalitarian Cuban government. He has since then voted in favor of maintaining the embargo. Ryan should explain his change of heart or risk Democrats taking advantage of his past record to suppress the vote of Republican Cuban-Americans.

Opinion: Why Paul Ryan?

Ryan comes across as an articulate and earnest man of conviction and faith. He is a Catholic who, unlike Romney, has no qualms speaking about his religious beliefs. The Romney campaign should allow him to speak directly and engage in a constructive debate.

Paul Ryan is comfortable showing emotion, so let him. He is very good at speaking about policy, so let him. Surprisingly, he stumbled out of the blocks in his first solo interview with Brit Hume earlier this week. He gave fuzzy answers to questions about the Romney budget. He said, "We haven't run the numbers on that specific plan."

Boston, run the numbers now! Ryan is perceived as a numbers and ideas guy who can explain wonky concepts in lay terms. The expectations for him when discussing fiscal issues are high. There is no room for error.

Paul Ryan can help win Florida and Latinos, but only if he lets us get to know him before the Democrats turn him into the monster underneath the bed.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ana Navarro.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 1424 GMT (2224 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2152 GMT (0552 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2121 GMT (0521 HKT)
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1354 GMT (2154 HKT)
Sally Kohn says the Ferguson protests reflect broader patterns of racial injustice across the country, from chronic police violence and abuse against black men to the persistent economic and social exclusion of communities of color.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1310 GMT (2110 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the left mistrusts Clinton but there are ways she can win support from liberals in 2016
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1359 GMT (2159 HKT)
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
August 16, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the way cops, media, politicians and protesters have behaved since Michael Brown's shooting shows not all the right people have learned the right lessons
August 17, 2014 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says the American military advisers in Iraq are sizing up what needs to be done and recommending accordingly
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1941 GMT (0341 HKT)
Marc Lamont Hill says the President's comments on the Michael Brown shooting ignored its racial implications
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 2146 GMT (0546 HKT)
Joe Stork says the catastrophe in northern Iraq continues, even though many religious minorities have fled to safety: ISIS forces -- intent on purging them -- still control the area where they lived
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2226 GMT (0626 HKT)
Tim Lynch says Pentagon's policy of doling out military weapons to police forces is misguided and dangerous.
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says millennials want big ideas and rapid change; she talks to one of their number who serves in Congress
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2357 GMT (0757 HKT)
Dorothy Brown says the power structure is dominated by whites in a town that is 68% black. Elected officials who sat by silently as chaos erupted after Michael Brown shooting should be voted out of office
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Bill Schmitz says the media and other adults should never explain suicide as a means of escaping pain. Robin Williams' tragic death offers a chance to educate about prevention
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Nafees Syed says President Obama should renew the quest to eliminate bias in the criminal justice system
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2024 GMT (0424 HKT)
Eric Liu says what's unfolded in the Missouri town is a shocking violation of American constitutional rights and should be a wake-up call to all
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 1922 GMT (0322 HKT)
Neal Gabler says Lauren Bacall, a talent in her own right, will be defined by her marriage with the great actor Humphrey Bogart
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1056 GMT (1856 HKT)
Bob Butler says the arrest of two journalists covering the Ferguson story is alarming
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 2035 GMT (0435 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says we all need to work together to make sure the tension between police and African-Americans doesn't result in more tragedies
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 2308 GMT (0708 HKT)
Michael Friedman says depression does not discriminate, cannot be bargained with and shows no mercy.
August 12, 2014 -- Updated 1525 GMT (2325 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must not surrender to apathy about the injustice faced by African Americans
ADVERTISEMENT