Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is taking heat after he told a crowd of supporters Tuesday that he doesn’t know "how anyone of Hispanic heritage could be a Republican."

Reid's comments were quickly criticized Wednesday by one of the GOP’s rising stars — Marco Rubio, the son of Cuban exiles who is running for U.S. Senate in Florida.

In an interview with Fox News, Rubio called Reid’s remarks "outrageous" and "ridiculous" and said "this kind of outrageous speech in politics is continuing to spread."

"You know, Americans of Hispanic descent, you know what the strongest issue there is? That is economic empowerment, upward mobility," Rubio said. "There’s only one economic system in the world that that’s possible in, time and again, and that’s the American free enterprise system.

"And the reason why Americans of Hispanic descent should be Republicans is because the Democratic leadership is trying to dismantle the American free enterprise system," he continued. "The point is he’s wrong."

The National Republican Senatorial Committee also blasted Reid for the remarks, saying in a statement Wednesday, "It's no secret that Harry Reid is a desperate politician who is under fire for his reckless spending and failed economic record, but these outrageous statements represent race baiting at its very worst."

Reid's campaign, meanwhile, has defended his remarks, saying in a statement Wednesday that "Sen. Reid has long enjoyed the support of many Hispanic Republicans in Nevada and he appreciates that support. 

"Sen. Reid’s contention was simply that he doesn't understand how anyone, Hispanic or otherwise, would vote for Republican candidates because they oppose saving teachers’ jobs, oppose job-creating tax incentives for small businesses, oppose investments in job-creating clean energy projects, and oppose the help for struggling, unemployed Nevadans to put food on the table and stay in their homes."

The Nevada Democrat, who is seeking a fifth term in the U.S. Senate, was blasting the Republicans for preventing comprehensive immigration reform when he made the remarks Tuesday at a campaign appearance, according to an account of the speech in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Reid reportedly said that just “because the wave of immigrants we have now — their skin's a tone darker than ours — doesn't make it any different.”

Reid is locked in a close race against Republican opponent Sharron Angle, a Tea Party favorite and former state assemblywoman who supports Arizona’s controversial law cracking down on illegal immigrants.