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Mel embraces McCain (finally)

Mel Martinez just took the stage to give his endorsement to his fellow Senate colleague, John McCain after a week of will-he-or-won't he speculation.

Martinez said he's had the opportunity to work with McCain for 3 years and trusts his judgement.

"I would not endorse someone I didn't have total confidence in," Martinez said, adding "I have total confidence he is Castro's worst nightmare."


Martinez, pictured left displaying a gift from a South Florida constituent, appeared poised to pull the trigger last weekend, but friends said he was reluctant to bypass Rudy Giuliani, who he's also friendly with.

The endorsement is a boost to the Arizona senator in Miami's Cuban-American community - and also in Orlando where Martinez was a popular chairman of Orange County. But it could cost him points among critics of the immigration plan that Martinez so ardently championed - and McCain supported.

McCain was the fourth GOP'er to address the powerful Latin Builders Association. He's speaking now after sort of mangling his way through pronounciations of his three other Cuban-American supporters, Reps. Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

He pledged fidelity to the cause of democracy in Cuba, recalling (for the second time in a week in Miami) his experience as a pilot aboard a U.S. aircraft carrier during the Cuban Missile crisis.

"My friends, many years ago, I was committed to the freedom of Cuba,'' he said to applause in the darkened hotel ballroom. "I am just as committed today.''