- By Uri Friedman
Uri Friedman is deputy managing editor at Foreign Policy. Before joining FP, he reported for the Christian Science Monitor, worked on corporate strategy for Atlantic Media, helped launch the Atlantic Wire, and covered international affairs for the site. A proud native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he studied European history at the University of Pennsylvania and has lived in Barcelona, Spain and Geneva, Switzerland.
With less than a week to go before the Florida primary, the battle for the state’s Hispanic vote is intensifying. Romney currently has a 15-point lead over Gingrich among Latino voters in the Sunshine State, but 1 in 5 Hispanic Republicans are undecided. And Newt’s not giving up on them.
During the GOP debate on Monday night, Gingrich recommended more covert operations to overthrow the Cuban government and suggested that Fidel Castro is going straight to hell after Mitt Romney explained that he would "thanks heavens" when Castro finally "returned to his maker." (In an op-ed today, Castro retorted that the Republican race was the "greatest competition of idiocy and ignorance" in history.) On Wednesday, Gingrich ridiculed Romney’s positions on immigration during an interview with the Spanish-langugage television network Univision.
Gingrich may have gone a step too far, however, in releasing a Spanish-language radio ad that called Romney "anti-immigrant" and accused him of "using Castro phrases" — a reference to Romney mistakenly describing a Castro catchphrase — patria o muerte, venceremos! — as a slogan for a free Cuba in 2007. Gingrich, the ad explained, has "committed himself to the Hispanic people" by supporting the U.S. embargo on Cuba and the prosecution of the Castro brothers for shooting down planes operated by a Cuban exile group.
The ad angered Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), who noted that "neither of these two men is anti-immigrant," and the Gingrich campaign decided to pull the ad today in response. When asked about the spot during his own Univision interview on Wednesday, Romney criticized Gingrich for using "terrible terms" (a video that touches on most of the themes in the radio ad and appears to be endorsed by Gingrich still exists on YouTube).
Still, the Romney campaign has been lashing out at Gingrich in Spanish as well. Earlier this month, Romney released ads in Florida in which Craig Romney affirmed his father’s commitment to reinvigorating American values (in pretty decent Spanish, no less) and Cuban-American Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen praised Romney for standing up to the "despotic forces" of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez.
But the Romney campaign went on the offensive today, attacking Gingrich for being soft on travel restrictions to Cuba and calling Spanish the "language of the ghetto" in 2007 (Gingrich later apologized in Spanish for the remarks, though it was never entirely clear that he had been referring to Spanish in his original comments). Gingrich, the narrator declares, is no Reagan conservative:
Gingrich said that he would not change the failed policy of Barack Obama on travel to Cuba that has served to fill the Castro regime’s coffers and increase repression on the island. I don’t think Reagan would agree with Gingrich…. And Reagan would never have offended Hispanics, as Gingrich did, by saying that Spanish is the language of the ghetto.
And Gingrich doesn’t appear to be shrinking from the attacks, either. According to the Miami Herald, the former House Speaker began airing a Spanish-language television ad last night that emphasizes his dedication to the Hispanic community and Ronald Reagan’s values:
Aren’t presidential campaigns just bizarre? One week you’re criticizing your opponent for speaking French, and the next you’re fiercely competing to see who can speak more Spanish.