MIAMI – Don’t mess with Sen. Marco Rubio, especially not in Florida.
The young Cuban-American Republican senator’s criticism of a Spanish-language ad released by Newt Gingrich that hit rival Mitt Romney for being “anti-immigrant” has caused the former House speaker’s campaign to pull the spot.
With the Florida primary fast approaching next Tuesday, Gingrich and Romney spent Wednesday feuding in an attempt to win over Latino voters at a Univision forum in Miami. Romney blasted Gingrich for the “anti-immigrant” line in the ad, saying it was “very sad” and “unbecoming of a presidential candidate.”
But it was not Romney’s rebuke of the ad, rather Rubio’s, that prompted the campaign’s decision to scrap the spot.
Rubio, the Republican senator considered a likely contender for the No. 2 slot on the Republican ticket, told the Miami Herald that the language used by Gingrich in the ad was “more than just unfortunate – it’s inaccurate, inflammatory and doesn’t belong in the campaign.”
“The truth,” Rubio said, “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.”
Spokespeople for the Gingrich campaign said Wednesday that they had taken the ad “out of rotation.”
Asked Wednesday in Cocoa, Fla., why his campaign had pulled the ad, Gingrich noted that he has “great respect” for Rubio.
“Remember what we’re talking about in this whole conversation. We’re talking about grandfathers and grandmothers who have children and grandchildren. OK?” Gingrich said. “The idea that somebody would actually think about deporting grandfathers and grandmothers strikes me as fairly inhumane. That’s how the idea got developed.”
It should come as no surprise that the Gingrich campaign seems reluctant to engage in a public feud with Rubio. In a new Latino Decisions poll for ABC News and Univision, 60 percent of Latino Republicans in Florida said they would be much more likely to vote Republican in the general election if Rubio is added to the eventual ticket. Fifty-six percent of Latino Republicans in the state said they currently have a very favorable impression of the senator.
Rubio has yet to endorse any candidate and has vowed to stay neutral until a nominee is picked, at which point he has said he will campaign in support of his party’s pick. Cuban-Americans are the largest component of Florida’s huge Latino population and they are especially prominent in the Miami area. According to the poll, Romney currently holds a commanding 49-17 lead over Gingrich among Cuban-Americans here, a dramatic reversal from 2008 when Sen. John McCain won the state – and eliminated Romney from the race – in part because of sizable support from Cuban-Americans.
Matthew Jaffe is covering the 2012 campaign for ABC News & Univision.