Whether he wants to admit it, Newt Gingrich's bid for the Republican presidential nomination is over. More than halfway through the primary, all he has to show for his efforts is a mere two states won, atrocious poll numbers, growing debt and an alarming disconnect from reality as evidenced by his far-fetched notion that he could win a contested GOP convention this summer.
For Latinos, Gingrich's fall from grace -- if you can call it that -- might have more of an impact than, say, the demise of Rep. Michele Bachmann or Herman Cain. Of all the Republican hopefuls, Gingrich speaker made the most serious overtures to Latinos, something that earned him support from Iowa to New Hampshire to Florida, but ultimately, not enough to make a difference.
The former House Speaker from Georgia first stood out from his rivals at a debate in November in Washington, D.C., when he outlined a far more moderate approach to illegal immigration than any of his top opponents, especially front-runner Mitt Romney. If immigrants have been here for a quarter of a century, raising a family, paying taxes, and obeying the law, Gingrich said, the government should not expel them. He voiced support for granting such undocumented immigrants legal status, but not full citizenship and a temporary guest-worker program for undocumented individuals in the United States.
"I don't see how the party that says it's the party of the family is going to adopt an immigration policy which destroys families that have been here a quarter century," he said. "I'm prepared to take the heat for saying let's be humane in enforcing the law without giving them citizenship, but by finding a way to create legality so that they are not separated from their families."
And take heat he did, with his opponents, such as Romney, quickly denouncing Gingrich's approach as "amnesty." A poll taken shortly before the debate by Univision and Latino Decisions revealed that registered Republican voters were split on the issue of the assimilation model or the criminal model. Thirty-seven percent of Republicans responded that they were more likely to back a candidate who supported the latter, while 35 percent supported the former, a statistically insignificant difference.
In the weeks that followed, though, numerous Latinos said in a series of interviews that they preferred Gingrich's immigration stance to Romney's. In Iowa, Juan Rodriguez, a businessman from Des Moines, said he would support Gingrich in the state's January 3 caucuses because "if there's no immigration reform, we are going to be very effected."
Enrique Pena-Velasco, a Colombian who came to the United States 31 years ago and now resides in Winterset, Iowa, said he too would back Gingrich because the immigration positions of other candidates had turned him off "in a big way."
"The other candidates have made a mistake in ignoring us completely," said Velasco, who attended a small briefing that Gingrich held late last year for members of the Latino community in Des Moines. "They forget that, nationally, we are strong in numbers and we play a key role when it comes to the actual general elections."
In New Hampshire, Latinos told a similar story. Outside a town hall event that Gingrich held for Latinos in Manchester, German Ortiz pointed out that "Newt is the only candidate who has had the courage to open the door to the issue of immigration like he did in the debates."
In Goffstown, Esteban Lopez said he was inclined to support Gingrich as well.