Marco Rubio was not happy.
“This kind of language is more than just unfortunate,” Rubio was quoted as saying in The Miami Herald. “It’s inaccurate, inflammatory, and doesn’t belong in this campaign.”
“The truth is that neither of these two men is anti-immigrant. Both are pro-legal immigration and both have positive messages that play well in the Hispanic community.”
No sooner did the news of Rubio’s discomfiture hit the Web than the Gingrich campaign say that it planned to pull the radio ad out of “respect for the senator’s wishes.”
"We respect Senator Rubio tremendously and will remove the ad from the rotation," said Gingrich's Florida campaign leader, Jose Mallea, according to The Miami Herald.
Gingrich’s ad, which targeted the Latino population in Florida – where the next GOP primary vote will take place, on Tuesday – portrayed the former Massachusetts governor as soft on the Castro regime but excessively hard-line on immigration.
This kind of language is more than just unfortunate. It’s inaccurate, inflammatory, and doesn’t belong in this campaign.
- U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, on a Gingrich campaign ad
Published reports noted that “Rubio’s sharp rebuke comes a day after he subtly corrected Gingrich for comparing Romney to former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, branded by conservatives as a turncoat who left the party before Rubio beat him in 2010.”
In the past, Rubio, who has refused to endorse any of the GOP candidates until the party selects the challenger to President Obama, has taken exception to what he considers potentially self-destructive talk by Republicans about illegal immigration. He has urged the party to focus its rhetoric on legal immigration.
Though he has withheld an endorsement, his thoughts on the words and actions of the contenders have carried weight. He's a tea party favorite, a GOP star and, many say, the future of the Republican Party.
Rubio's endorsement would be a big get for any of the presidential contenders ahead of the Tuesday primary – he has ties to both Romney and Gingrich, and speculation remains that he could end up the vice presidential nominee.
Rubio, 40, is one of Florida's most popular leaders, particularly among Republicans. A Quinnipiac University poll released Jan. 10 found that nearly 80 percent of Republicans and nearly half of independents approved of the job he is doing. Only a quarter of Democrats liked his job performance.
GOP candidates wanting to win Florida clearly do not want to disappoint Rubio.
Last fall, the GOP candidates announced they wouldn't participate in any debate hosted by Univision -- the nation's largest Spanish-language television network -- because of its handling of a controversial story related to Rubio.
Rubio staffers accused Univision of using a report about an old drug conviction for the senator's brother-in-law to strong-arm Rubio into an interview with the network's star anchor Jorge Ramos.
Gingrich staffers said their boss agreed to the event after talking it over with Rubio.
This week, the Republican presidential candidates finally agreed to appear on Univision in a "Meet the Candidates" forum co-sponsored by Miami-Dade College and the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Aides to Romney and Gingrich say neither candidate has asked Rubio for his endorsement out of respect for the senator's decision to stay out of the race. Even so, their backers are privately hoping Rubio changes his mind, given how wide open the race is only a week before Florida's Republicans weigh in on what has been a volatile nomination fight.
This story contains material from The Associated Press.
Elizabeth Llorente can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org
Elizabeth Llorente can be reached at email@example.com
Follow Elizabeth Llorente on https://twitter.com/Liz_Llorente