Republican John McCain, speaking to a raucous crowd on Cuba's independence day, hammered Democrat Barack Obama for saying he would meet with President Raul Castro and called Obama a "tool of organized labor" for opposing a Latin American trade deal.
For a second day, McCain attacked Obama for saying, in a debate last year, that as president he would meet with the leaders of Cuba, Iran and Venezuela without preconditions.
McCain insisted such a meeting could endanger national security, sounding a theme that is likely to persist until the November general election
The Arizona senator recalled the ridicule President Carter faced in 1979 when he kissed Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev during the signing of an arms treaty.
"Carter went over and kissed Brezhnev, remember?" McCain said Tuesday in Miami. "So it's dangerous; it's dangerous to American national security if you sit down and give respect and prestige to leaders of countries that are bent on your destruction or the destruction of other countries. I won't do it, my friends."
A woman in the audience applauded McCain's position: "For that, believe me, Florida will be yours," Ninoska Perez Castellon told McCain. She is a radio commentator for the anti-Castro station Radio Mambi.
Dozens of people at a town-hall style forum booed as McCain raised the notion of a meeting with Castro, and they gave McCain a standing ovation when he said that, as president, he would pressure Castro to release political prisoners unconditionally, schedule internationally monitored elections, and legalize political parties, unions and free media.
McCain used his trip to Florida to mark Cuban independence day, May 20, saying, "Let us take a moment to pray that Cubans everywhere can one day soon enjoy the liberty for which their forefathers fought."
He expects to do well among Cubans and other Hispanic voters in Florida, a general election battleground, in part because of his more forgiving attitude toward illegal immigrants; he supports a path to citizenship for them, although he says he has concluded the border must be fully secured before the government can resolve the citizenship status of illegal immigrants.
McCain also used his visit as an opportunity to criticize Obama for opposing a free trade deal with Columbia that could benefit Florida's agriculture and manufacturing industries. The pact, blocked by Congress, would eliminate high barriers facing American exports to Columbia. Most Colombian products already enter the U.S. duty-free.
In an interview with local reporters on his campaign bus, McCain said Obama "is a tool of organized labor ... He's been against (trade agreements with) Colombia, South Korea and several others. That's what labor unions want, no free trade agreements."
Later, McCain told his audience Colombia represents a beacon of hope in a region where the Castro brothers and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez are actively trying to stop economic progress and democracy.
Blocking the trade deal won't create U.S. jobs, "but it will divide us from our Colombian partners at a time when they are battling the FARC terrorists and their allied drug cartels," McCain said, referring to the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
Obama and Democratic rival Hillary Rodham Clinton are scheduled to campaign Wednesday in Florida, underscoring the state's electoral importance.