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El commandante hurts Obama

Fidel Castro, giving food for thought (via Robert of Fairfax, Flickr)

The difference between Cuba’s now-ex-leader Fidel Castro and US presidential hopeful Barack Obama could not be bigger (well, Mr Castro is not much like any US politician except, conservative cynics claim, Ted Kennedy). But with his decision to step down, Cuba’s father figure may have a serious influence on Mr Obama’s campaign for November, should he be the Democratic nominee.

The theory goes like this: The Republicans will surely target Mr Obama’s promise to meet up with any leader without strings attached. In the last CNN debate, Mr Obama reaffirmed the public that he would go to see Fidel’s brother and likely successor Raul Castro without any preconditions, which has already been criticised by Republican candidate John McCain. The Cuba-question will be an important factor in Florida, where a lot of exiled Cubans live. They tend to be more conservative than Hispanics rest of the country, anyway (the South-Florida voter-ratio is 4-1 for Republicans), but if Mr McCain manages to portrait Mr Obama as an irresponsible candidate who ruins any prospect for change in Cuba, a large turnout by these voters could make the decisive difference in a very closely contested swing-state. Still, there are question marks – in Florida’s exile community, the opinion about Cuba is said to have become a matter of generations. If younger voters want to improve relations to the country of their parents, they might give Mr Obama their voice.

But one thing becomes clear quite early in the campaign: Mr Obama’s promise to see leaders, no matter what their position on the U.S. is, already turns out to be his Achilles heel – and he is struggling hard to find a new wording for it. In the CNN debate, he said he would meet Mr Castro, but made sure to add that “preparations”had to be made before. For the Republican camp, the issue will definitely bring them some flip-flop-claim-opportunity further down the road.

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