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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Courting the Latino vote is a must for candidates of both parties in Florida and across the country as it has been for years.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

JACQUELINE KENNEDY: (Foreign language spoken)

BLOCK: That's Jackie Kennedy in an ad from 1960. Fast-forward to January 2012 and Florida is again flooded with political ads in Spanish. And they're causing some controversy as NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates reports.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES, BYLINE: Tune into Spanish language radio or TV for even a few moments in Florida these days, and you'll hear ads touting the virtues of Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. Neither candidate speaks much Spanish, so the voice-overs are outsourced, sometimes to family members.

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CRAIG ROMNEY: (Foreign language spoken)

BATES: Craig Romney spent a couple of years as a Mormon missionary in Chile and spoke fluently on behalf of his father, telling voters his values and theirs are the same. But the ads to reach Latinos often aren't, says Matt Barreto, a co-founder of polling research firm Latino Decisions.

MATT BARRETO: When we do analysis of campaign ads and look at the similarities and differences, we usually find big differences in what Republican candidates are saying in their outreach in Spanish language TV and radio, and in English language TV and radio.

BATES: That's happening now in Florida, where the heavily Hispanic Service Employees International Union launched an ad this week. It accuses Romney of pandering in an ad they call Las Dos Caras, The Two Faces of Mitt Romney.

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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)

BATES: The ad goes on to say Romney's Spanish language ads profess to care about the future of Latino children, even as he promises other non-Latino audiences that he'll veto the Dream Act, a path to citizenship for undocumented college students.

Newt Gingrich got a crispy public admonition from Florida's junior Senator Marco Rubio for calling Romney anti-immigrant in one Spanish language ad. Rubio isn't endorsing either candidate but felt the charge was untrue and unseemly. That ad has since been pulled.

It's a serious misstep for Gingrich, who already raised the ire of millions of Latino voters when he made this observation in 2007.

NEWT GINGRICH: We should replace bilingual education with immersion in English, so people learn the common language of the country, and so they learn the language of prosperity, not the language of living in a ghetto.

BATES: He quickly followed that with an apology in Spanish, saying he'd just meant English was the pathway to the key to success for opportunities and good jobs, education and more.

GINGRICH: (Foreign language spoken)

BATES: A corazon sincero - a sincere heart - is essential, says Matt Barreto, in effectively reaching Latino audiences.

BARRETO: Latino voters will see right through a Spanish overlay or a dubbed commercial that doesn't appear to be making any personal or real connection.

BATES: Casey Klofstad, a political science professor at the University of Miami, says Gingrich and Romney might do well to take a page from George W. Bush's playbook.

CASEY KLOFSTAD: If you go back to President Bush's two campaigns, he made a very concerted effort - nationally and especially in Florida - to really make outreach and inroads with the Latino community. And it really yielded dividends

BATES: Bush has Hispanic relatives. His half-Mexican nephew, George P. Bush, barnstormed Florida on behalf of his Tio Jorge, to great effect. Other ads paid homage to George Bush's Texas upbringing, like this catchy tune.

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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing in foreign language)

BATES: GOP candidates will no doubt continue to refine their Spanish language ads as they make their way through the primaries. But they'll need to do it authentically or they'll end up saying disculpame - I'm sorry - a lot more as the months wear on.

Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

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