Newt Gingrich, who's earned a reputation as a political bomb-thrower, had one of his attacks blow up on him instead Wednesday when a negative, Spanish-language radio ad accusing Mitt Romney of being "anti-immigrant" drew fire from fellow Republicans, including one of his party's rising stars, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.
The Miami Herald reported that Rubio, who is often mentioned as a possibility for a future national GOP ticket, asked Gingrich to take down the ad that's been running on some Florida stations.
From Marc Caputo's Herald report:
" 'The truth is that neither of these two men is anti-immigrant,' Rubio said. 'Both are pro-legal immigration and both have positive messages that play well in the Hispanic community.'
"By mid-day, Gingrich's campaign said it would pull the radio ad out of 'respect for the senator's wishes.' About the same time, former Sen. Mel Martinez and a group of Hispanic leaders aligned with Romney in issuing a letter demanding Gingrich remove the ad.
" 'We respect Senator Rubio tremendously and will remove the ad from the rotation,' said Gingrich's Florida campaign leader, Jose Mallea.
The ad called Romney the "most anti-immigrant candidate" even though Romney has said he doesn't oppose immigration but illegal immigration.
Romney has taken a fairly hard-line on illegal immigration. At Monday's debate in Tampa, he said denying illegal immigrants work opportunities in the U.S. would force many to "self-deport," or return to their home countries on their own. His position is that ultimately all illegal immigrants should return home and get in line for legal entry to the U.S. behind those who've already applied.
That stance is certainly harder than the one Romney took in 2007 during his prior presidential run when he seemed to be open to providing the more than 10 million undocumented immigrants in the nation a pathway to legal status. But that position is viewed as amnesty by many Republicans and even some Democrats who equate it with rewarding lawbreakers.
Gingrich has proposed allowing illegal immigrants who have established themselves in the U.S. and long been productive members of their community to apply for legal status to remain in the U.S.
Rubio, who won his 2010 contest against former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist with strong Tea Party movement support, is still neutral in the race.
If the Republican primary contest turns out to be close, the state's Latino Republican vote could be critical. So Gingrich had an incentive to not antagonize Rubio or any other Florida Latino voters who might noncommittal since Romney already has a large lead with these voters, according to a new poll.