In a sign of the ties between Newt Gingrich and Florida, the Republican presidential frontrunner has hired Jose Mallea, campaign chief for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio's 2010 race, to be his Florida director. Hat tip to National Journal.
Mallea's hiring has an immediate benefit for Gingrich: The name "Rubio" winds up in the same headlines as "Gingrich."
Rubio isn't playing favorites in the race. He will not endorse. And there's no sign he's subtly favoring Gingrich, who helped the former Florida House Speaker publish his 100 Innovative Ideas for Florida's Future.
Mallea, a Miami-based consultant and Coral Gables bar owner, is more of an ideas guy than an operations manager. And he's the best type of insider: one who seems like an outsider. His roots are deep in Miami and he worked for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. This shows Newt is smart. Mallea not only has great connections, he's one of those rare political creatures who doesn't seem to have many enemies.
He didn't go the Tallahassee or Tampa Bay route, but is obviously interested in Miami-Dade's Republicans, 72 percent of whom are Hispanic, like Mallea. Gingrich earlier today started plugging a Spanish-language website.
"At the end of the day, Florida is important and so is the Hispanic vote. Hispanics aren't just a crucial part of the electorate, they're part of the cultural fiber that makes Florida one of the most dynamic states in the nation," Mallea said.
"Newt understands that," he said. "And he understands what every American wants: economic opportunity and prosperity."
With Mallea bringing a Rubio's political aura to Gingrich, it's an interesting contrast with Romney, who has hired a handful of former political hands for former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist's abandoned Republican Senate race. A few former Crist Republicans also work for Texas Gov. Rick Perry's campaign.
Romney doesn't have a single high-level Rubio person in his senior staff ranks, although Florida director Brett Doster, a former Rubio guy, gives Romney some more conservative cred in consultant circles. But so far
Romney has been essentially running for president since 2007 and has wrapped up the endorsements of some of the Cuban-American community's top leaders. As we said in a previous story about that, John McCain effectively ended Romney’s candidacy by winning Florida’s GOP primary with a margin of 97,000 votes. McCain’s Miami-Dade margin: 52,000.
Miami-Dade is Florida’s largest and most-Hispanic county. Hispanic voters, nearly all of whom are of Cuban descent, account for 72 percent of the roughly 368,000 registered Republicans in the county.
Exit polls showed McCain took 51 percent of the Hispanic vote in the 2008 primary, while Romney only garnered 15 percent support in Florida, the nation's largest swing state.