After hearing months of inflammatory rhetoric -- from Cain joking that he would build an electric fence along the Mexican border to Romney touting the endorsement of anti-immigration activist Kris Kobach -- Latinos relished the outreach from Gingrich. But the Hispanic population in Iowa is around 5 percent and in New Hampshire under 3 percent. Gingrich finished fourth in both states.
Gingrich's daughter, Kathy Lubbers, predicted better days ahead for her father, who represented a Georgia congressional district, as the race shifted South. She was right. Gingrich surged to a huge victory in South Carolina and, suddenly, he had a golden opportunity to overtake Romney in Florida, where Latinos make up 13.1 percent of the state's 11.2 million registered voters.
"He has been working with and including the Hispanic community for seven, eight years," Lubbers said. "We have a lot of people in place, probably more than any other candidate, so I'm hopeful that it actually comes to fruition. We'll just have to see if that plays the way we're hoping it does because it's part of the heart of the campaign, so it'd be very sad if it doesn't."
At the final debate before Florida's primary, Gingrich wasted no time in attacking Romney on immigration, calling him the most anti-immigrant candidate in the race. Romney fought back, calling Gingrich's characterization "inexcusable."
"The idea that I'm anti-immigrant is repulsive," Romney said.
Vilma Lacayo, a Republican voter in Miami, was impressed by Gingrich's "compassion" for Latinos.
"I think that Gingrich has a more flexible position, more open towards immigration," Lacayo said. "You have to have that type of compassion with people. You have to have it as president, not just in this case, but in many situations that he will face. He has to act that way.
"The more I'm listening to Gingrich, the more he seems presidential," she concluded as the debate wound down. "I look at the way he handles issues in general. I look at his experience. He knows about everything. He's winning my vote."
Unfortunately for Gingrich, most Latinos in Florida are of Cuban or Puerto Rican descent, so when it comes to the issue of immigration they do not have the same interest or fears that immigrants from Mexico or Central America have. In addition, Gingrich, 68, came to Florida fresh off his campaign through South Carolina when he praised the Palmetto State's controversial new immigration law, which would make traffic police contact federal immigration officials if they suspect someone to be in the country illegally.
"South Carolinians have actually passed a law that I think is a pretty reasonable law," Gingrich said.
If the unique makeup of Florida Latinos and Gingrich's support for South Carolina's law didn't help the former House Speaker's case any, then Romney's relentless attacks really left him reeling. All told, Romney and his allies spent more than $15 million on ads in Florida, and all but one of those ads was negative.
"If you don't have a positive message about your work, you have to go negative because there's nothing else to say," Lubbers said, sighing.
Romney cruised to an easy win in the Jan. 31 primary, bolstered by the support of Florida's sizable Cuban population. Gingrich's bid was left in disarray and he would not win again until his Super Tuesday victory in his native state of Georgia, a triumph that hardly even mattered at that point.