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Baltimore Sun, USA, July 8, 2008

The Swamp

McCain's Miami radio ad takes liberties

by Mark Silva and updated with McCain campaign response.

At Sen. John McCain's campaign, se habla espanol.

But they also may be getting carried away with their numbers, according to a critique of a McCain campaign Spanish language radio ad conducted by FactCheck.org. Camp McCain says its numbers are fine, and has a cite for them.

In the ad, Tony Villamil, a Cuban-born Miami banker and former director of tourism, commerce and economic affairs in Florida, touts the benefits of the Colombia Free Trade Act, which McCain, the Republican Party's presumptive presidential nominee, supports and President Bush has promoted but failed to win in Congress.

McCain touted this deal in a recent trip to Colombia.

"This is Tony Villamil speaking,'' the Miamian says, in an English translation of the radio ad. "When it comes to a strong economy for our state, commercial trade with Latin America is crucial. Three-quarters of Florida's exports are with Latin America, and the Colombian Free Trade Agreement would create even more opportunity.

"In this election, there are some that talk about revising the Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada and oppose the Agreement with Colombia. This would hurt our economic future. Last year Florida's exports to Latin America reached almost $45 billion dollars. Colombia is Florida's third most important export market and this trade agreement would create almost 5,000 new jobs. John McCain supports the Colombian Agreement, knows about our alliances with our hemisphere and understands our economy grows thanks to trade.''

Close, but no Cuban cigar, say the folks at FactCheck.

Right on the money, says camp McCain.

At FactCheck.org, writing about "Errors en espanol,'' they start with the claim that three-quarters of Florida's exports are with Latin America: "That's wrong. According to the trade statistics generator from the U.S. Department of Commerce, all of Florida's international exports totaled close to $45 billion dollars in 2007, and the state's exports to Latin America AND the Caribbean last year equaled nearly $24 billion. That means 53 percent of Florida's exports go to the region, much closer to half than three-quarters. Exports to Latin America by itself would be even smaller.

But the McCain campaign says it drew its figures from Enterprise Florida, a quasi-public organization that handles Florida's trade and industrial development.

In 2007, the campaign notes, the state's Official Economic Development Organization estimated that the Western Hemisphere Accounted For 76.1 percent of Florida's Exports And Latin America And The Caribbean accounted For 73.4 percent. "This Would Be Three-Quarters,'' they say citing Enterprise Florida's erchandise Trade by Major World Regions, 2005-2007.

· In 2007, Enterprise Florida etimated that the state had $44.85 Billion ($45 Billion) In exports to the Americas ($43.27 Billion To Latin America And The Caribbean).

"In this election, there are some that talk about revising the Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada and oppose the Agreement with Colombia,'' the McCain campaign contends. "This would hurt our economic future.''

The contention that Colombia is Florida's third most important export market also is problematic, according to FactCheck, which again turned to the federal government.

"Colombia ranks fifth - not third - in Florida exports, according to figures from the Commerce Department, as well as from the Census Bureau,'' the group says. "But McCain should know this already, because he said it himself on May 20, in an article he wrote for Miami's Latin Business Chronicle:

"Colombia today stands as Florida's fifth largest export market - Florida exported $2.1 billion worth of goods there last year,'' McCain wrote in that piece, "and now the Colombians are offering to drop their barriers to American goods.''

Again, the McCain camp turns today to Enterprise Florida on this one, noting that the organization called Colombia the third largest merchandise export market for Florida In 2007. Yet, while this might support the contention of the radio ad, it still conflicts with the No. 5 ranking that the candidate himself -- presumably his staff, really -- cited in May.

"We contacted the McCain campaign repeatedly about the figures used in the ad but received no answer as to where the campaign's numbers came from and why they differed so much from the Commerce Department's statistics,'' Factcheck's Rachel Weisel and Justin Bank wrote at first.

The McCain campaign later said, after we reported on these discrepancies, that they had contacted FactCheck with their own facts. So that's the end of that.

Posted by Mark Silva on July 8, 2008 4:00 PM

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