Finding just the right headline speaker: Activists aim high.

Keith Laytham, a member of the Polk County Democratic Executive Committee, hopes to convince the Obama campaign to let the president speak at the 6th Annual Hispanic Heritage Festival in Poinciana in October. (Photo by Dave Raith).

POINCIANA – When it comes to a popular outdoor event, it never hurts to have a strong headlining act to help boost attendance and bring in even more crowds.
When it comes to a popular festival held every fall in Poinciana, Keith Laytham is truly aiming high. He hopes to be able to bring in a very well known featured speaker to this event.
“It doesn’t take a real genius for someone to say this would be the perfect opportunity, two weeks before the election,” Laytham said.
His goal: to bring President Barack Obama to Poinciana. And he doesn’t think it sounds like too tall an order to accomplish, considering the very crucial – perhaps decisive – role that Central Florida could play in November’s presidential campaign.
“The last couple of weeks before the election, the candidates are zeroing in on where they need to put the focus on,” Laytham said. “And that is the Hispanic vote in Florida.”
The event is the 6th Annual Hispanic Heritage Festival, which is held in Vance Harmon Park each October. This year it will be on Sunday, Oct. 21, and if past years are any indication, it should attract a very solid crowd of more than 13,000 residents.
While the event features food, music, and live entertainment that highlights the Hispanic culture in Central Florida, the fact that it also gets held in late October, closing in on election day, means that the event has become equally popular with office holders seeking re-election, and those looking to topple them.
“When Jean Reed was running for county commissioner on the Polk side of Poinciana, she had a booth at the event,” Laytham said of the former Democratic Polk County commission who served from 2006 until 2010.
“When Alex Sink was running for governor (in 2010), she had a booth, too,” said Laytham.
What’s also significant about this event, he said, is that the audience is considered a highly coveted swing group of voters, courted by both major parties.
“This festival is the big thing Hispanics put on every year in Vance Harmon Park, and you can bet that every politician in the area will be there,” he said. “I’ve put in a request to have President Obama show up, although I don’t know if that will happen. But this festival gets about 10,000 people every year, so this is a big deal.”
Laytham lives on the Polk County side of Poinciana, in the Solivita development, and he’s a member of the Polk County Democratic Executive Committee. Laytham said he reached out to the Obama re-election campaign early, to see if he can convince them to schedule the president for an appearance at the Hispanic Heritage Festival.
Local groups have made requests for both President Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney to appear in the state, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. Earlier this month, the Haines City/Northeast Polk County Chamber of Commerce put in a request for both candidates to appear at their annual fund-raising event known as the Pig Roast and Political Rally, which brings together political candidates of both parties to meet local voters. However, neither presidential candidate appeared at the event, held at the Lake Eva Banquet Hall in downtown Haines City.
On the other hand, Florida remains one of the nation’s top swings states, having voted for the winning presidential candidate in every election since 1996, including Democrat Bill Clinton that year, Republican George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, and then Obama in 2008. Polls continue to suggest a very tight race again this year for the state’s 29 electoral votes.
A new Mason Dixon poll showed Obama with 46 percent and Romney with 45 percent in Florida – a dead heat.
That, plus the fact that the Hispanic vote is considered to be crucial to the election, could be the right ingredient to convince the Obama re-election campaign that an appearance at the Hispanic Heritage Festival would pay off handsomely in November, Laytham said.
“You look at the demographics here,” Laytham said. “We’re in the I-4 corridor, and there’s a huge Hispanic vote in the I-4 corridor. If you’re a political junkee, you know there are some people who say if Romney doesn’t carry Florida, he can’t win.”
The Democrats may not be able to monopolize this event, though, since local Republicans also think this would be an ideal event for their party’s presidential nominee, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, to speak or perhaps to introduce his running mate, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, to local voters.
Jeff Goldmacher is active in Republican Party politics, and on the Aug. 14 Florida State Primary, he won the GOP nomination for the District 3 county commission seat, now held by Democrat Brandon Arrington, which covers Poinciana. Goldmacher argeed that the Hispanic Heritage Festival would be a great event — for Romney.
“I’m very close with the Republican chair for Romney here in Osceola County, and also the staff at Romney’s office here,” Goldmacher said. “So I’m going to work on that. I will have a booth there at the event, like I did last year, and I will probably get the Republican Party of Osceola County to get a booth as well.”
He also believes Republicans can make a strong argument to Poinciana’s Latino voters, even though many are registered as Democrats.
“On the Republican side, only about a third of registered voters are Hispanic,” Goldmacher said. “We’re reaching out to the Democratic Hispanics, because if you ask them what they believe in, they believe in Republican values, like limited government, family values, and less taxes.”
Laytham said he made the request to the Obama re-election campaign, and now he’s waiting for a response – with the hope that the case can be made for the benefits of bringing the president to this festival.
“You make that request and then that bubbles up,” he said. “Nobody is going to tell you in advance.”

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