- The Washington Times - Friday, April 13, 2012

On his way to a summit in Colombia, President Obama stopped in the key election battleground state of Florida Friday and told port workers that he’s promoting more trade with Latin America.

“While I’m in Colombia talking with other leaders, I’m going to be thinking about you,” Mr. Obama told workers at the port of Tampa, where he toured the facilities. “I want us selling stuff, and I want us putting more Americans back to work.”

The president was en route to Cartagena, where he will participate in the summit of the Americas through Sunday. Leaders from North America, South America and the Caribbean will discuss trade and other issues.

Mr. Obama touted passage last year of free-trade agreements with Colombia and Panama, pacts begun under President George W. Bush, saying they will boost U.S. exports.

“A lot of the countries in this region are on the rise. In Latin America alone, over the past decade, tens of millions of people have stepped out of poverty and into the middle class,” Mr. Obama said. “So they’re now in a position to start buying American products. That means they’ve got more money to spend, and we want them spending money on American-made goods, so that American businesses can put more Americans back to work.”

The president’s three-day trip also was intended to enhance his outreach with Hispanic voters, about 67 percent of whom voted for him in 2008. They could decide the election in swing states such as Florida, Nevada and Colorado. The visit to Tampa was his second trip to Florida this week.

Republicans said Mr. Obama faces an uphill battle in Florida, which was hit hard by the recession and has an unemployment rate over 9 percent.

“This president cannot run on his record,” said Rep. Dennis Ross, Florida Republican. “This president has done nothing to create or promote the creation of private sector jobs in this country, let alone the state of Florida.”

In a conference call arranged by the campaign of presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, Florida Republican, said it was “ironic” that Mr. Obama is promoting trade pacts that he delayed at the start of his presidency.

“He held it back for two-and-a-half years of his administration,” Mr. Diaz-Balart said. “In agriculture sales alone to Colombia, we lost over a billion dollars. It’s ironic that now this president is out there trying to take credit for something that he frankly held back, was not supportive of and something that was obviously initiated by President Bush.”