(Photo: REUTERS/Benjamin Myers)
Mitt Romney has been spending a significant amount of money and resources to win Florida's 50 delegates in the state's Jan. 31 Republican presidential primary. While Gingrich's position on immigration was seen as a drawback in earlier states, it, ironically, may deliver him a significant victory in Florida.
Former Massachusetts Governor Romney lost to Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) in the 2008 Florida primary. CNN's exit polls for that contest showed that Romney tied McCain among non-Latino voters but lost heavily among Latino voters. Thus, Latino voters helped deliver McCain his victory, and could do the same for Gingrich in a tight race.
Cuban-Americans made up seven percent of the votes cast in 2008 and they voted for McCain 54 percent of the time. Non-Cuban Latinos were another four percent of the electorate and supported McCain by 53 percent. Only nine percent of Cuban-Americans and 21 percent of non-Cuban Latinos supported Romney.
Gingrich has been getting strong support from Latinos for his position on immigration and has been endorsed by Somos Republicans, an organization representing Republican Latinos. He supports the "red card solution," which is an expanded guest worker program for immigrants who want to work, but do not want citizenship, and a path to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants who have lived in the United States for a long time and have no criminal record.
McCain also supports a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. In 2008, he got 48 percent of the vote from those who said the best way to deal with immigration is a path to citizenship, and 37 percent support from those who wanted a guest worker program. Romney only got 24 percent and 30 percent, respectively, of those voters. Together, those voters made up 60 percent of the Florida Republican primary electorate.
An InsiderAdvantage poll conducted in Florida on Sunday shows Romney with only 9.2 percent of the Latino vote to Gingrich's 25.3 percent.
Texas Congressman Ron Paul performs the best among Latino voters, with 41.5 percent support. This may also be a function of age. In the poll, 55.1 percent of Latinos were in the 18 to 29 age group, and Paul is popular among young voters.
Paul's campaign, however, has decided not to compete in Florida. Florida has a winner-take-all primary. This means that whoever wins the primary gets all 50 of Florida's delegates. Since Paul has little chance of winning Florida, the campaign has made the strategic decision to spend its resources where Paul can win delegates.
(Florida actually should have 99 delegates, but Florida Republicans have a 50 percent penalty for scheduling its primary too early under party rules.)
Florida is also the first closed primary. This means that only registered Republicans can vote. While Latinos are typically registered Democrats, Cuban-Americans are mostly Republican and make up a significant voting bloc in the southern part of the state.
Romney does have two advantages he could use to try and increase his share of the Latino vote. His old rival, McCain, has endorsed him. Plus, he has received endorsements from several prominent Cuban-American politicians in the state. U.S. Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart and his brother, former Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, have all endorsed Romney.
There will be two televised debates in Florida this week, on Monday and Thursday. The Thursday debate is co-sponsored by The Hispanic Leadership Network, a Republican Latino outreach organization. It will be shown on CNN's Spanish language channel and will focus on issues affecting Latino communities.