Speaking to a group of Hispanic voters at a campaign event Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) blamed Republicans for holding up immigration reform in Congress and openly wondered how any Hispanic voter could identify as Republican, given the party's record.
"I don't know how anyone of Hispanic heritage could be a Republican, OK," Reid said, according to the Las Vegas Review Journal. "Do I need to say more?"
The senator's statements mark the most open assault from a major Democrat on the GOP's stance on immigration so far this campaign cycle.
Illegal immigration has become a central issue in a host of campaigns during the primary season — many of them Republican Party fights with one candidate working to paint the other as soft on the issue.
In Nevada, Reid's Republican challenger, Sharron Angle, is a staunch supporter of Arizona's new immigration law, while Reid has been one of its leading Democratic critics. Hispanic groups in Nevada have used the Arizona law as the impetus for new voter-registration drives in recent weeks.
In Nevada, Hispanics constitute more than 25 percent of the state's population — and their voting ranks are growing.
The most prominent Hispanic Republican candidate this year shot back immediately Wednesday. Florida Senate candidate Marco Rubio (R) called Reid's comments "outrageous" in an interview with Fox News.
"The reason why Americans of Hispanic descent should be Republicans is because the Democratic leadership is trying to dismantle the American free enterprise system," Rubio said.
More on Reid's remarks from the LVRJ:
"Immigration is nothing new," Reid added, speaking to more than 50 mostly activist Hispanics who applauded his anti-GOP remarks. "We are a nation of immigrants. So because the wave of immigrants we have now -- their skin's a tone darker than ours -- doesn't make it any different."
Tibi Ellis, chairwoman of the Nevada Republican Hispanic Caucus, dismissed Reid's shot at her party as "political rhetoric" in a highly competitive election year. She said Reid "has been a friend of the Hispanic community, but so have so many people of the Republican Party."
In Nevada, estimates of illegal immigrants range from 150,000 to 250,000 out of a total population of less than 3 million people. Hispanics make up about 25 percent of the total state population and accounted for a record high 15 percent of the electorate in 2008 after a Democratic Party registration push.
-Updated at 11:32 a.m.