Manchester, New Hampshire (CNN) - Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich is ramping up operations in Florida with the man behind Marco Rubio’s Senate campaign that rocked Sunshine State politics and challenged the national Republican Party establishment.
The former House speaker hired Rubio’s Senate campaign manager, Jose Mallea, to be his Florida state director. With less than two months to go before the Jan. 31 primary, Gingrich is significantly behind well-financed Mitt Romney when it comes to a campaign presence beyond the first three game-changing states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Although Mallea could be a sign Gingrich is hoping to capture the come-from-behind magic that propelled Rubio to an unlikely Senate win, the Miami-based political strategist is walking into a bare-bones operation. Until recently, Gingrich’s Florida operation consisted of two staffers based in Miami, who originally worked for Gingrich Productions - a multimedia production company based in Washington - and are coordinating the candidate’s national Hispanic outreach.
On the other hand, Romney’s campaign has had five staffers on the ground, including a consultant and field staffers dispatched throughout the state, since early September.
Gingrich is surging in early primary state polling, including the latest NBC News/Marist poll, released Sunday, which shows the nascent frontrunner leading top-tier candidate Romney among likely Republican primary voters in Florida, 44% to 29%.
While Mallea’s former boss is considered a serious vice presidential contender for Gingrich and other White House hopefuls, Rubio has said he will not endorse a presidential candidate before the Florida primary. Romney endorsed conservative Rubio's Senate bid in the Republican primary against Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, who switched parties to run against Rubio as an independent but lost to the tea party favorite.
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