Sen. Marco Rubio scolded Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign over a Spanish-language radio ad that accuses rival Mitt Romney of being "anti-immigrant."
“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 when asked about the ad.
“The truth is that neither of these two men is anti-immigrant,” Rubio said. “Both are pro-legal immigration and both have positive messages that play well in the Hispanic community.”
Rubio’s sharp rebuke comes a day after he subtly corrected Gingrich for comparing Romney to former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, branded by conservatives as a turncoat who left the party before Rubio beat him in 2010.
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Both Romney and Gingrich are in Miami on Wednesday for speeches about Cuba and Latin America.
The criticisms from someone of Rubio’s stature in the Republican Party comes as polls show a near-even race, albeit with Gingrich surging.
Rubio plans to stay neutral in the race. He’s a potential running mate whom both candidates would love to have on the ballot. And he’s gaining iconic status among many national Republicans who see him as a face of the future in a nation that’s growing more Latino.
Miami, Rubio’s hometown, is a key battleground. The candidates are all wooing the Cuban-exile community here, which accounts for nearly three-quarters of the Republican vote in the largest county of the nation’s largest swing state.
Already, about 54,000 early ballots have been cast in Miami Dade, where nearly three-quarters of the Republicans are Hispanic.
Rubio’s statement was fueled by the explosive, partisan debate over immigration, a key issue this election season as both parties aggressively court the Hispanic vote.
Democrats and liberals have tried to paint the Republican candidates as anti-immigrant or even anti-Hispanic for opposing legislation such as the DREAM Act, which provides a path to citizenship for some illegal immigrants — mainly college students and soldiers.
Rubio, who frets that the DREAM Act gives too much “amnesty” to a broader class of immigrants, and other Republicans have accused Democrats of playing rank ethnic politics.
So when Gingrich’s radio spot described Romney as “the most anti-immigrant candidate,” Rubio and others felt he not only crossed the line — he was adopting liberal criticisms.
Earlier in the campaign, Gingrich was accused of sounding like a Democrat when he bashed Romney’s time leading Bain Capital, a private-equity firm that, at times, had profited from restructuring companies and laying people off.
Despite the condemnation from conservatives, though, Gingrich went on to surge in South Carolina, where he drubbed Romney on Saturday.
Two days before, Gingrich began running his Spanish-language ad, which begins in shocking fashion by playing an excerpt of Fidel Castro repeating his trademark line: “Patria o muerte, venceremos!” — Fatherland or death, we shall overcome.
Romney in 2007 had mistakenly associated the Castro line with a call for a free Cuba during a speech. Some in the crowd of the Cuban-exile community were aghast.
“Unlike Romney, who uses statements from Castro, Newt Gingrich has fought against the regime,” the ad says, noting that Gingrich helped pass the Cuba-trade crackdown law, Helms-Burton.
“He supported the formation of Radio and TV Marti; and is in favor of holding the Castro brothers accountable for the shooting down of the Brothers to the Rescue airplanes,” the ad says, referencing a 1996 incident where anti-Castro activists were killed by the Cuban military near the island’s airspace.
Ironically, the ad bears some of the handiwork of Rep. David Rivera, a Rubio friend and confidante who backs Gingrich.
Rivera this fall helped stitch together a boycott of a proposed Univision debate by the Republican presidential candidates over the way the Spanish-language network reported a story about Rubio’s brother-in-law.
Rubio bears no personal ill-will to Gingrich, who helped support him when Rubio was Florida House Speaker in 2007 and 2008. Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush are headlining a Friday Hispanic Leadership Network event where they’ve invited all the major GOP candidates. Gingrich on Monday night began airing a new, positive Spanish-language TV ad.
The candidates Republican candidates initially balked at attending a U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce forum tied to Univision, but Gingrich and Romney have decided to attend today. Gingrich was being interviewed by Univision when word of Rubio’s criticism broke. On Tuesday on the campaign trail, Gingrich addressed large, enthusiastic crowds in St. Petersburg and Sarasota, where he invoked Rubio’s name.
"As many of you know Jose Mallea is helping us with our campaign. He was Marco Rubio’s campaign manager. We discovered last night that Mitt Romney has picked up Charlie Crist’s campaign people," Gingrich said in St. Petersburg amid a smattering of boos at the mention of the former governor’s name. "That sort of tells you everything you needed to know about this contest."
Turns out, Mallea worked for Crist years ago as well. And Romney has some high-profile Rubio workers on his staff just as Gingrich does.
Later in the day, when asked about the use of his name and the linking of Romney and Crist, Rubio didn’t sound pleased about it.
"Mitt Romney is no Charlie Crist. Romney is a conservative,” Rubio said. “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.”
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