Newt Gingrich has pulled a Spanish-language ad accusing rival Mitt Romney of being "anti-immigrant" after sharp criticism from Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.
"This kind of language is more than just unfortunate. It's inaccurate, inflammatory, and doesn't belong in this campaign,'' Rubio told The Miami Herald Wednesday when asked about the ad. "The truth is that neither of these two men is anti-immigrant. Both are pro-legal immigration and both have positive messages that play well in the Hispanic community."
Rubio's remarks came a day after he criticized Gingrich for comparing Romney to former Florida Governor Charlie Crist. Crist is not well liked among Republicans in the state. Crist lost to Rubio in the race to decide the Republican's nominee for the Senate in 2010. He then left the Republican Party and ran against Rubio as an independent in the general election.
"Mitt Romney is no Charlie Crist," Rubio said. "Romney is a conservative and he was one of the first national Republican leaders to endorse me. He came to Florida, campaigned hard for me, and made a real difference in my race."
Gingrich has also been comparing himself to Rubio, who has not endorsed anyone in the race. Rubio, whose parents emigrated from Cuba, is the highest ranking Latino in the state and is considered a "rising star" by many in the Republican Party.
Both candidates have been campaigning hard for the Latino vote in Florida. The "Sunshine state" has a closed primary, which means only registered Republicans can vote. Since Cuban-Americans are mostly registered Republicans and non-Cuban Latinos are mostly registered Democrats, the Cuban vote will be particularly influential.
Univision, a Spanish-language channel, separately interviewed both Gingrich and Romney on Wednesday. When asked about Gingrich's ad accusing him of being anti-immigrant, Romney said it was sad to see Gingrich use the epithet and that it was "unbecoming of a presidential candidate."
In Gingrich's interview, he criticized Romney for using the phrase "self-deportation" in Monday's debate. Romney had said that undocumented immigrants would "self-deport" if they could no longer work due to stricter documentation requirements.
"I think he's amazingly insensitive to the realities of the immigrant community – his whole concept of self-deportation. I've not met anyone who thinks it's in touch with reality. People aren't going to self- deport," Gingrich said.
The Romney campaign fired back by pointing out that Gingrich had previously spoken approvingly about the concept of self-deportation and his campaign manager used the phrase just before the New Hampshire primary.
Somos Republicans, a national organization representing Republican Latinos, issued a statement Wednesday criticizing Rubio – whose position on immigration is similar to Romney's – by saying, "Marco Rubio has fallen off of his rocker. Not only does Rubio not support the DREAM Act, he also supports Arizona's harsh anti-immigrant law. Now he is telling Republican 2012 Presidential Candidate Newt Gingrich to pull his ads about Mitt Romney's anti-immigrant positions."
Recent polls are inconsistent regarding which candidate Florida Latinos are supporting. A Latino Decisions poll shows Romney ahead by 15 points, 35 percent to 20 percent. Public Policy Polling shows Romney with a slight lead, 45 to 42 percent among Cubans and 35 to 31 percent among non-Cuban Latinos. And, InsiderAdvantage shows Romney with only 9.2 percent support among Florida Latinos while Ron Paul gets 41.5 percent and Gingrich gets 25.3 percent.
The wide variation could be due to small sample sizes in the polls. Latino Decisions is the most reliable, with a sample of 517 Florida Latinos, while Insider Advantage and Public Policy Polling each had less than 100.
In a Wednesday interview with The Christian Post, Philip Williams, professor of political science at University of Florida, expressed doubt that any poll would be able to reliably predict which way the Latino vote will go in Florida's primary.
Issues of concern to Latino communities will also be a topic in Thursday night's debate, which will be cosponsored by The Hispanic Leadership Network, a Republican organization devoted to building support for the party among Latinos. The debate will also be televised on CNN's Spanish language channel.