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Gingrich, Romney Battle For Florida's Spanish-Speaking Vote

The campaigns of Republican presidential candidates Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney traded attacks in Miami on Wednesday in English and in Spanish.

Both men appeared separately in a candidates' forum on the Spanish-language Univision network, and both went on the air in Miami with attack ads on Spanish-language radio.

It's a reminder of how important the Cuban-American vote is, especially in Republican primaries in Florida. Hispanics represent about 11 percent of Republican registered voters in Florida; two-thirds of them live in Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

Romney's campaign has been airing Spanish-language campaign ads for some time. Gingrich recently launched a tough attack ad on Spanish-language radio.

It's pretty raw stuff, even in Miami. It starts with a clip from Fidel Castro and goes on to compare him to Romney. The ad also calls Romney anti-immigrant.

A number of elected Hispanic leaders wrote Gingrich calling the ad "untrue, offensive and unbecoming of a candidate for the Republican nomination." One of those signing the letter was Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who so far has stayed neutral in the race.

By the end of the day, the Gingrich campaign said it would take the ad down.

Romney also launched his own Spanish-language attack ad against Gingrich. It attacks Gingrich for his ethics violations as House speaker, his work for Freddie Mac and, as the ad says, for calling Spanish a "language of the ghetto."

Gingrich was asked about it during an interview on Univision.

He said he was making a point about immigrants needing to learn English to succeed in America. In that same interview, Gingrich laughed at Romney's comments in Tuesday's debate that faced with tough immigration laws, illegal immigrants may choose to self-deport.

Gingrich called it an "Obama-level fantasy."

On Univision, Romney defended it, noting Gingrich has endorsed something similar in the past and that it's preferable to trying to round up millions of illegal immigrants.

A Univision poll out Wednesday shows Romney with a big lead over Gingrich in the Hispanic community, both in Florida and nationally. That poll, however, spans some of the time before Gingrich's win in South Carolina, so it's not clear how representative it is at this time.

Romney has the support of nearly every prominent Cuban-American Republican elected official in South Florida, and that carries a lot of weight with the community.

Gingrich is trying to cut into that support. But he appears to be the only one.

Ron Paul is skipping Florida. Rick Santorum was supposed to also take part in Wednesday's Univision candidate forum but canceled because of scheduling conflicts.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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