Romney, Gingrich fireworks over immigration

With Florida's Republican presidential primary just days away -- and the race air-tight -- the campaign took an ugly turn Wednesday, as sparks flew between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich over the issue of immigration.

Gingrich started the day's slug-fest --- sounding incredulous that Romney would say illegal immigrants should -- in Romney's words -- self-deport. In other words, leave on their own.

"I think," Gingrich said, "you have to live in worlds of Swiss bank accounts and Cayman Island accounts and automatic $20 million a year income with no work to have some fantasy this far from reality."

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Romney fired back -- saying Gingrich is also on the record for supporting the idea that illegal immigrants will leave the country if they're denied work.

Said Romney, "I recognize that it's very tempting to come out to an audience like this and pander to the audience. ... I think that's unbecoming of a presidential candidate."

Both candidates know the stakes.

The latest polls show Gingrich closing on what was a double-digit lead for Romney. They're now separated by only two points and, in a neck-and-neck race, Hispanics -- who make up 12 percent of the Republican vote in Florida -- can be decisive.

Gingrich went for the kill Wedneaday -- releasing a radio ad calling Romney "anti-immigrant."

But it backfired. Influential Sen. Marco Rubio scolded the former House speaker for using what he said was inflammatory language. Gingrich pulled the ad -- and later explained why he signed off on it in the first place.

"The idea," said Gingrich, "that somebody would actually think about deporting grandfathers and grandmothers, strikes me as inhumane. That's how the ad got developed."

Romney said his focus is on people who come here legally. And Gingrich -- he said-- was over the top.

"There are differences," Romney said "between candidates on important issues, but we don't attack each other with those types of terrible terms."

So the gloves have really come off.

Watch Jan Crawford's report on the Florida political heat in the video player above.

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    Jan Crawford is CBS News Chief Political and Legal Correspondent. She is from "Crossroads," Alabama.

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