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Gingrich, Romney Scrap Over Latino Vote in Florida

Gingrich, Romney Scrap Over Latino Vote in Florida

By Erin McPike - January 26, 2012


MIAMI -- Targeting specific coalitions wasn't much in vogue in the Republican primary race until the campaigns came to the Sunshine State. Now, a battle is raging for the Latino vote in south Florida.

Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney each visited here Wednesday to sit for interviews with Univision, the largest Spanish-language TV network in the United States, and also to offer remarks elsewhere on Latin American issues. But some personal spats loomed larger than what may separate the two candidates on the salient Hispanic issues.

Despite having a more conservative stance than Gingrich on immigration policy, Romney is outpolling him with Latino voters in Florida, according to a new Univision/ABC News poll. Pollsters surveyed 517 registered Hispanic voters in the state, and 35 percent said they would vote for Romney in the primary compared to 20 percent for Gingrich. (Rick Santorum and Ron Paul each registered in single digits.) The poll was conducted Tuesday and has a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points.

It’s no surprise, then, that Gingrich’s team has been attacking Romney as “anti-immigrant,” which it did in a Spanish-language radio ad that campaign representatives subsequently pulled from the airwaves after complaints from Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. (A Cuban-American darling of the Tea Party, Rubio has said he will not back a candidate in the intra-party fight.) After first refusing, the campaign complied in deference to the star freshman of the Senate.

Miami-based Univision anchor Jorge Ramos opened his interview with Romney by drawing on comments Gingrich made in his interview earlier in the day, and specifically the charges made against Romney in the radio ad.

“It’s very sad for a candidate to resort to that kind of epithet,” Romney said, adding later, “I think that’s unbecoming of a presidential candidate, and I think that was a mistake on his part.”

Romney reiterated his oft-repeated talking point that he “loves” legal immigration, and added, “Immigrants form more businesses than do domestic-born Americans.”

For his part, Gingrich slammed the concept of “self-deportation” -- which Romney advocated during Monday’s debate in Tampa -- as “fantasy,” only to be criticized by Romney surrogates for having once touted the very same idea himself.

“What’s shocking is . . . that his campaign has also talked about self-deportation, so he needs to maybe reconcile with himself where he stands,” said Florida Rep. Connie Mack, a Romney supporter. “His campaign has put out self-deportation, so if it’s ‘fantasy,’ then why would he propose fantasy? It doesn’t make sense.”

Romney allies dug up a December 2010 interview with conservative radio host Laura Ingraham, who floated self-deportation as an outcome of more rigid immigration laws, and Gingrich agreed.

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Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at emcpike@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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