Newt Gingrich said Wednesday that he wants to win at least half of the Latino vote in the 2012 general election. He has a long way to go.
Speaking with anchor Jorge Ramos at a Miami forum on top Spanish-language news network Univision, Gingrich said he expects to rise in the polls with Latino voters and do even better than his Republican predecessors, like President George W. Bush, who received about 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004.
"I have a hunch that by this fall we may do better than any Republican except maybe Reagan," Gingrich said.
As Ramos pointed out, though, Gingrich "would lose the general election" among Latino voters, based on his current polling numbers. Univision and ABC News released on Wednesday the results of a poll, conducted by non-partisan polling firm Latino Decisions, that found that 70 percent of Latino voters would support Obama in a match-up with Gingrich, while only 22 percent prefer the former House speaker.
Yet Gingrich is making a major play for Latino voters as the Florida primary sneaks closer. The state has 1.5 million Latino voters, and winning the bulk of their support could help any GOP candidate pull out a victory in the Jan. 31 primary.
Gingrich's decision to appear at the Univision forum at all was a clear attempt to court Latinos, especially after he and other GOP candidates announced in the fall that they would boycott a debate to be hosted by the network, based on a claim that it treated Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) unfairly.
Wednesday's forum featured separate interviews with Gingrich, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) declined to participate.
But Ramos wasn't there to throw softball questions, and unlike at GOP debates, in which Gingrich is able to play on anti-media fervor, he faced a Univision host who is enormously popular in the Latino community.
Gingrich opened with a couple of sentences in Spanish, which Ramos brought up later when he asked about Gingrich's offensive statements about the language. Though Gingrich's campaign has run Spanish-language ads, he has called for English to become the nation's official language. He also previously said "Spanish is the language of living in the ghetto." (He later apologized, also in Spanish.)
"It wasn't about Spanish, I was saying that about all languages," Gingrich said on Wednesday. "English is a common, unifying language. ... In the United States if you are not conversant in English your commercial future is limited."
One of Gingrich's primary objectives during the interview seemed to be to draw distinctions between his positions on immigration and those of Romney. He laughed when Ramos asked him about Romney's statement on Monday that undocumented immigrants should "self-deport." Gingrich said the comment shows that Romney has "no concern for the humanity of people who are already here."
"Jorge, can I ask you a question? I mean, you're a very sophisticated observer and the most widely-watched analyst in Spanish-language television -- how close are you to breaking up laughing out loud at this fantasy?" he asked. Ramos laughed, but did not answer.
Gingrich is sometimes considered the most moderate of the GOP field on immigration, a stance that voters in states such as Iowa and South Carolina viewed as a negative but is seen as a benefit in Florida. But Ramos did not let Gingrich off the hook, pressing him on what he would do with the undocumented immigrants who do not fit into his narrow criteria for legalization.
Gingrich said only those who have been in the U.S. for 20 to 25 years would be eligible for legal status under his immigration policy, referring to "grandmothers and grandfathers."
"You're leaving out most of the undocumented immigrants," Ramos said. Gingrich responded, "Yes."
"So what would you do with them?" Ramos continued.
Gingrich explained that he would support a change in guest worker laws so that younger undocumented immigrants with fewer ties to the United States could also have a chance to stay -- another distinction that would allow for only a slim number to avoid deportation.
Ramos pointed out that Gingrich also opposes the Dream Act, which would provide legal status to some undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, provided they showed "good moral character" and attended college or joined the military. Gingrich said he only opposes part of the Dream Act and would support similar bills that only applied to the military, meaning enlistment would be the only option for young people who wanted to obtain legal status.
Gingrich said no Americans would support mass legalization -- a proposal that President Barack Obama and other Democrats have not suggested -- and then implied all undocumented immigrants crossed the border illegally.
"There are virtually no Americans -- if you go around this country and say to people, 'Hi, would you like to legalize 11 million people that crossed the border illegally?'" he said. "Jorge, you're never going to get that done."
WATCH: Gingrich Tells Univision's Jorge Ramos He Supports "Half The Dream Act"
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