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Does Ryan Pick Help Or Hurt Romney's Chances In Florida?

Here's the above-the-fold headline on Sunday's Miami Herald: "Ryan could hurt Romney in Florida."

Pundits are already predicting that Mitt Romney's vice presidential pick, Rep. Paul Ryan, will damage, if not doom, Romney's chances of winning the largest swing state.

(Romney was scheduled to take his bus tour to Florida on Monday, with Ryan coming later in the week for a Tampa fundraiser.)

First, we should acknowledge the research showing a VP pick has little effect on the outcome of a presidential race. But the race is too close to call in Florida, and even small decisions could mean the difference between victory and defeat in the state.

So, will Ryan help or hurt Romney? The answer is different for Florida's different GOP constituencies.

1. Cuban-Americans:

During the lead-up to Florida's Republican primary, Romney made a speech in south Florida criticizing President Obama's Cuba policy — especially lifting some travel restrictions and allowing more cultural exchanges.

But Ryan has voted more than once against the Cuban embargo. He also told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2008, "If we're going to have free trade with China, why not Cuba?"

Since then, his position reportedly has changed, and he now supports the embargo. But according to Miami Herald reporter Marc Caputo, south Florida's Cuban GOP community is not pleased.

Then again, the Cuban community in Florida is not monolithic. Younger Cuban-Americans are more likely to favor increased ties with Cuba.

It doesn't help that Romney passed over another rising GOP star and Tea Party favorite who just happens to be Cuban-American: Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

New York Times election guru Nate Silver says Rubio would have added 2.3 percent to Romney's margin in Florida — perhaps just enough to overcome Obama's slight lead in the polls.

2. Seniors:

There are a lot of senior citizens in Florida, and they vote in big numbers.

Polls show Florida seniors favoring Romney. So, how will the retiree and soon-to-be retiree set react to Ryan, the 42-year-old representative from Wisconsin?

Remember, Ryan was at the forefront of President George W. Bush's failed plan on Social Security — which would have allowed participants to invest in the stock market. Not to mention Ryan's more recent plan for Medicare — which, depending on your politics, either saves the program through competition, or turns it into a voucher system to "push grandma off a cliff."

A CNN poll last summer showed that a majority of voters oppose the Ryan proposal — and seniors as a group were even more against it. That has led some pundits to say Romney just handed Florida to Obama.

But there's at least one example that indicates otherwise: Rubio.

In 2010, Rubio was in a tough race against then-Gov. Charlie Crist for the U.S. Senate. Crist made a big issue of Rubio's support for making changes to Social Security and Medicare. But Rubio won that race by a huge margin, including among seniors.

One more thing — Romney is not likely to cede the Medicare issue to Obama.

He already has been criticizing Obama on what he calls $700 billion in Medicare reductions under the Affordable Care Act. He promised to protect Medicare again in his speech introducing Ryan.

It all suggests Social Security and Medicare reform are no longer the third rail of politics in Florida — or perhaps the rail is losing its shock value.

Scott Finn is news director at WUSF in Tampa.

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