MIAMI, Florida (Reuters) - Republican Newt Gingrich, cranking up the campaign rhetoric, mocked White House rival Mitt Romney’s plan for self-deportation of illegal immigrants as a “fantasy” on Wednesday and assailed President Barack Obama’s tax ideas as “stupid.”
Gingrich, who has surged in recent polls to pull into a virtual tie with Romney in Florida after beating him last week in South Carolina, poked fun at Romney during a forum sponsored by the Spanish-language network Univision.
He ridiculed Romney’s statement on Monday that he would support “self-deportation” of illegal immigrants rather than force the government to round them up and send them home, a stance that has drawn criticism as unworkable.
“You have to live in a world of Swiss bank accounts and Cayman Island accounts and automatic, you know, $20 million a year income with no work to have some fantasy this far from reality,” Gingrich said in a reference to Romney’s fortune, revealed when he released his tax records earlier this week.
Romney has taken a tougher position on illegal immigration than Gingrich, including threatening to veto the Dream Act, a proposal that would allow some children of illegal immigrants a path to citizenship.
Momentum from a big win at the South Carolina primary election last week has propelled Gingrich into Florida, which holds its primary vote on January 21.
At an earlier campaign stop, Gingrich also criticized Obama’s proposal in Tuesday’s State of the Union speech to make those who earn at least $1 million a year pay a marginal tax rate of at least 30 percent.
Gingrich said in Coral Springs that he was expecting clarification from the White House because the proposal was “so stupid even they couldn’t defend it.”
Romney also attacked Obama’s proposal during a campaign event in Orlando, saying the president seemed “detached from reality” during his address.
Immigration is a big issue in Florida, where 11 percent of registered Republican voters are Hispanic and many are of Cuban descent. The state’s primary on Tuesday is the next battleground in the Republican race to pick a challenger to Obama and will be a crucial swing state in November’s general election.
Gingrich, the former House speaker, has said he would work to pass a version of the Dream Act that would allow children of illegal immigrants a path to citizenship if they join the military.
“I am not for the whole Dream Act, but I am for the part that says if you are in the United States, even if your parents brought you illegally, if you are here, you have the same right to sign up in the military and earn citizenship,” Gingrich said.
“This is not an issue that I took up on Tuesday,” he said, adding he supported a “practical, honest, conversation about a series of steps that get us to legality.”
In a separate appearance at the Univision forum, Romney was told Gingrich had called him anti-immigration.
“It is very sad for a candidate to resort to that kind of epithet. It is just inappropriate,” he said. “There are differences between candidates on important issues but we don’t attack each other with those kind of terrible terms. I am not anti-immigrant. I am pro-immigrant.”
Romney’s campaign sent reporters a compilation of past statements by Gingrich and his spokesman supporting self-deportation. “This is who Newt Gingrich is: an unreliable leader who undermines conservatives, hurts our party and emboldens President Obama and his liberal allies,” said Romney spokesman Albert Martinez.
“There were times when the president said if you send me this legislation, I will sign it. And I thought, well, aren’t you the leader of the free world? Why don’t you draft some legislation?” Romney said.
“Why don’t you go out and say here’s what I want, here’s what needs to happen, come to the White House, let’s sit down and hammer this out together,” he said.
Both Romney and Gingrich courted Hispanics with their appearances at the Univision forum. Gingrich took a tough stance against Cuba, proposing a range of steps including covert operations and psychological warfare to end the Castro government.
Gingrich said he would use the same tools against Cuba that were used against the former Soviet Union by former President Ronald Reagan and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
“They went at it psychologically, they went at it economically, they went at it diplomatically, they went at it with covert operations,” he said. “You want to say to the entire younger generation of the dictatorship ‘You have no future propping up the dictatorship. You have a wonderful future if you are willing to become a democracy.’”
Gingrich was asked at the forum about his marital troubles and whether it was hypocritical of him to lead the impeachment effort against President Bill Clinton in 1998 when Gingrich also was being unfaithful to his second wife.
“I didn’t do the same thing. I have never lied under oath. I have never committed perjury. I have never been involved in a felony. He was,” Gingrich said.
Additional reporting by Steve Holland, Sam Youngman, Deborah Charles; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Eric Walsh