JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Newt Gingrich tried to defend his claim that Mitt Romney is “the most anti-immigrant candidate” in last night’s Republican presidential debate here, an accusation that Romney called “inexcusable” and “repulsive.”
Gingrich did not seem to understand that this accusation, made in a Spanish-language radio ad aimed at South Florida’s large Latino population, may actually end up helping Romney win next week’s primary. The controversy stirred by the ad, which Gingrich ordered his campaign to pull off the air, highlights differences of policy — and puts Gingrich clearly to Romney’s left, which isn’t a good place to be in a Republican primary.
After a long discussion of the issue, CNN moderator Wolf Blitzer asked Gingrich, “I just want to make sure I understand. Is [Romney] still the most anti-immigrant candidate?” The former House Speaker answered: “I think, of the four of us, yes.” This provoked a long response from Romney, who said he favors “enforcing the U.S. law to protect our borders,” a position that is not “anti-immigrant.” Romney accused Gingrich of “the kind of over-the-top rhetoric that has characterized American politics too long,” and then invoked the most popular Republican in Florida: “I’m glad that Marco Rubio called you out on it. I’m glad you withdrew it. I think you should apologize for it, and I think you should recognize that having differences of opinions on issues does not justify labeling people with highly charged epithets.”
Thursday’s debate, the 19th televised debate among Republican presidential candidates this year, certainly did not lack fireworks. And while many political junkies have become weary of watching these affairs, the event here on the campus of the University of North Florida may be as decisive as the South Carolina debates that were credited with helping Gingrich score a crucial win there Saturday. Polls this week in Florida show Romney pulling away, and the former Massachusetts governor had one of his best-ever debate performances Thursday, while Gingrich had one of his worst yet.
By Robert Stacy McCain, The American Spectator
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