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Dispatch from the Hispanic-vote war in the Republican presidential race

After bashing each other in the final debate before the crucial Florida primary, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich traveled south to Miami on Friday to woo Hispanic power brokers.

But before either candidate could utter a word, they were upstaged.

Sen. Marco Rubio gave sweeping remarks on immigration — the kind of personal, stirring speech Gingrich and Romney could only wish they had delivered.

Neither Gingrich, his Florida momentum stalled after his commanding South Carolina victory last week, nor Romney, riding a wave after his strong performance in a Jacksonville debate Thursday, could match the reception Rubio received in the Doral Golf Resort & Spa at a conference of the Hispanic Leadership Network, former Gov. Jeb Bush’s organization.

Of the two GOP primary frontrunners, the crowd of several hundred — almost all of them Hispanic — clearly preferred Romney, the former Massachusetts governor. He was introduced by his wife, Ann, and the youngest of his five sons, Craig, who lived in Chile and speaks some Spanish.

Loose, confident and not wearing a tie, Romney received enthusiastic applause and whistles when he declared, “We are not anti-immigrant.”

“We are not anti-immigration,” he added, a reference to a controversial attack ad Gingrich aired against him earlier this week before the campaign pulled it following scathing criticism from Rubio and other prominent Florida Hispanics.

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