Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s bus tour will make a campaign stop in Miami-Dade County on Monday to court the much-needed Hispanic vote.
But whether Romney’s newly announced running mate, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, will accompany him seemed unlikely. On Sunday, campaign spokesmen said they could not confirm if the duo would be together on the trip. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who made the vice presidential short list, could be there.
Monday’s Romney visit is unique because it is breaking tradition by not making a stop at the famed Republican hub of Versailles in Little Havana — the restaurant known as the place where current and prospective U.S. presidents, governors, legislators, mayors and commissioners go to court the Cuban vote.
Instead, the Romney bus tour will stop further southwest at El Palacio de los Jugos — or the Juice Palace — at 7085 Coral Way, one of a growing number of popular open-air eateries known for their fresh fruit juices and hefty servings of Latin comfort food.
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On Sunday, the eatery’s manager and employees were preparing for the big day. A large crowd expected to reach 2,000 will begin gathering at 3 p.m. Monday; Romney will speak at 5 p.m. During the afternoon rush-hour, a section of Coral Way will be closed.
“The reason why he will be here is because this is the most recognized Hispanic place in the community — and it’s known for its fruits, vegetables and Latin food,” said Palacio’s manager Jorge de la Lama.
According to Alison Hawkins, spokesperson for the Romney campaign, there is no particular reason behind Romney’s decision to stage a campaign stop at El Palacio de los Jugos instead of Versailles: “We try to go to a variety of locations to show our support,” Hawkins said. “We will visit lots of businesses during the campaign.” The important thing, she said, is attracting Hispanic voters: “Coming to Miami shows them just how important their vote is.”
De la Lama said he personally invited Versailles owner, Felipe Valls, to attend the event at his eatery in what he says will be “a historic and special event for the Latin community.” Valls could not be reached for confirmation.
During the Romney visit, El Palacio will be closed at the request of the Secret Service.
After the speech, Romney, who is anticipated to focus on the creation of new jobs, will serve juices to the guests, work the food counter and take pictures with employees. The stage where Romney is scheduled to speak will be decorated with tropical palms trees that De la Llama said will give it a Latin flavor.
To accommodate the crowd, de la Lama has asked neighboring businesses to help provide parking spaces for the public, the satellites trucks, the Secret Service and the Romney campaign team. “I think it’s great that he is coming. This is a very centric place, especially for the Cuban community,” said Maria Sejpal from Miami, who plans to attend the event with her son. “Opportunities like these don’t come every day.”
De la Lama said the history of El Palacio fits into the message of the “Romney Plan for a Stronger Middle Class Bus Tour.”
El Palacio opened 37 years ago by the parents of the current owner and helps bring home Romney’s focus on the middle class and small businesses. “El Palacio de los Jugos shows the greatness that this country can offer to all immigrants coming here to look for a better future,” de la Lama said.