Florida’s large and growing Hispanic population makes the subject of immigration – legal and illegal – an important topic, and GOP contender Mitt Romney used a portion of the Republican debate there Monday night to defend himself against charges from Newt Gingrich he was “anti-immigrant.”
Romney responded to an Gingrich ad which labeled the former Massachusetts governor the “most anti-immigrant” candidate in the race, a charge that even U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., rejected as “inaccurate” and “inflammatory.” The Gingrich campaign eventually withdrew it.
“That’s simply inexcusable. That’s inexcusable. And, actually, Sen. Marco Rubio came to my defense and said that ad was inexcusable and inflammatory and inappropriate,” Romney said.
“The idea that I’m anti-immigrant is repulsive. Don’t use a term like that… I’m glad that Marco Rubio called you out on it. I’m glad you withdrew it,” Romney continued. “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.”
Before Gingrich could respond, he was interrupted with strong applause from the audience.
“I’ll give you an opportunity to self-describe,” Gingrich said, after the applause died down. “You tell me what language you would use to describe somebody who thinks that deporting a grandmother or a grandfather from their family — just tell me the language,” Gingrich said. “I’m perfectly happy for you to explain what language you’d use.”
Pivoting hard, Romney accused Gingrich of lying about his record and emphatically stated he was “pro-legal immigration.”
Romney did, however, have some questions to answer over immigration, especially regarding a Spanish-language ad his campaign ran accusing Gingrich of saying that Spanish was the “language of the ghetto.”
Romney said he was unaware of the ad, but in it he says, in Spanish, “I’m Mitt Romney, and I approve this message.”
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