TAMPA, FL -- The battle over the Latino vote is heating up in south Florida.
Newt Gingrich is out with a radio ad playing on local Spanish-language stations that hits former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for being “the most anti-immigrant candidate.”
“Mitt Romney is a government liberal, from the state of and similar to Kennedy. He is the most anti-immigrant candidate,” the ad charges, according to a translation by the Miami Herald.
Immigration has emerged as a wedge issue between Romney and the former House speaker. Romney has insisted that illegal immigrants should go to their native countries to apply for permanent residency, while Gingrich has proposed a system of "citizen review boards," by which illegal immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for a certain number of years could win residency status without returning home.
"With regards to those that have come here illegally now, we're not going to round them all up and deport them. But we're also not going to give them a preferential pathway to become permanent residents," Romney said last night, during the CNN debate in Charleston, S.C.
"Coming here illegally," he continued, "should not give you an advantage being able to become a permanent resident of the United States."
The remarks won applause from the conservative audience.
Gingrich may hope that his own message will play among south Florida's various immigrant communities, where in some cases attitudes may differ. But the ad also clearly aims to discredit Romney among the Cuban community in particular, where another issue -- Cuba’s Castro regime -- is a chief concern.
Resurrecting a gaffe from the last presidential cycle, the ad hits Romney for misattributing a Fidel Castro quote to Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez during a stop in Miami in 2007.
The ad begins with archival tape of Castro using his signature phrase, “Fatherland or Death, we will prevail.”
The narrator says, “Surprising enough, this statement was also made by Mitt Romney.”
(According to the Miami Herald, Romney had mistakenly told voters that “Hugo Chavez has tried to steal an inspiring phrase” that in fact “belongs to a free Cuba.”)
“Unlike Romney, who uses statements from Castro, Newt Gingrich has fought against the regime with Lincoln and Ileana to approve Helms-Burton,” the ad continues, referencing a 1996 act that strengthened the U.S. embargo against Cuba.
That charge won pushback from the Romney campaign today, which points out that the two Florida politicians cited in the ad -– former Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen –- have both endorsed Romney, along Diaz-Balart's younger brother, Mario, who succeeded Lincoln in Congress.
"Mario Diaz-Balart, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Lincoln Diaz-Balart all stand with Mitt Romney because he has laid out a clear vision for spreading democracy in our hemisphere. By attacking anyone who supports common-sense border security and immigration reforms as ‘anti-immigrant,’ Newt Gingrich is once again reading from Barack Obama’s liberal talking points," Romney spokesman Alberto Martinez said in a statement to NBC News.