Newt Gingrich is continuing his courtship of Arizona's Latino voters --this time with faith leaders.
Just hours before the debate in Mesa Wednesday night, Gingrich's campaign announced that several prominent Latino religious leaders in the state were joining his Arizona Faith Leaders Coalition
The campaign coalition is designed to spearhead faith outreach events for voters leading up to the Arizona primary next Tuesday and general election in November.
The co-chair of the Arizona coalition, Reverend Eve Nuñez, is also the chair of the Arizona Latino Commission and the state director of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
"I support Newt Gingrich because he shares the same conservative values that Latinos have,” Nuñez said in a statement, “and he is committed to taking the immigration issue head on while respecting the sanctity and dignity of each human life.”
Pastor Juan Ramos of Arizona’s largest Hispanic church, Love International in Phoenix, has also joined the coalition.
Ramos said, “Throughout his campaign, Mr. Gingrich has been consistent in his position on important issues concerning the Latino community."
Both are joined by Pastor Tony Martínez, Superintendent of the Southwest District Assembly of God’s 100+ churches, who echoes the coalition’s belief that Gingrich “is the only one that will beat Obama.”
In a statement, Gingrich said: “I am excited to see the momentum from Arizona faith leaders building around my campaign and our national coalition.”
He went on, “They will be instrumental in helping us spread our message for religious liberty over the radical secularism of the Obama administration.”
Gingrich’s alliance with the Latino faith leaders follows his campaign’s release of an Internet ad last week that targeted Arizona’s Latino voters. The ad touted Gingrich as a candidate who shares the kind of values – “in family, in religion, in hard work, and in right to life” – that are important to Latinos.
Some Republican Party leaders have expressed concern that the hard-line rhetoric in the GOP primary debates on undocumented immigrants could be viewed by Hispanic voters as anti-Latino.
Some more prominent members of the party, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, have urged their fellow Republicans to be mindful of their tone when addressing issues important to Latinos. Rubio has said Republicans can connect more successfully with Latinos if they stress their like-mindedness on socially conservative issues.
Even though Wednesday's debate took place in the state with the fifth-largest Hispanic eligible voter population in the country, the only issues touching directly on Latinos were immigration and border enforcement.
When Gingrich was asked in the debate what he would do to secure the Southern border, the politician spoke of his bill that, along with state leaders such as Governor Brewer and Governor Perry, will apply as many resources as needed to secure the border by January 2014.
“It is utterly stupid to say that the United States government can't control the border,” the former House Speaker said. “It's a failure of will, it's a failure of enforcement.”
“The first step is to control the border. I don't believe anybody who's here illegally -- and I talked last night, for example, with folks who are of Hispanic background from Nogales (Arizona) who are in the import-export business dealing with Mexico every day. They don't want a border that's closed, they want a border that's controlled, that has easy access for legality and impossible access for illegality,” Gingrich said.
According to writer and Fox News political analyst Juan Williams, “The Hispanic vote will be critical in 2012 -- not just in Arizona but across the nation. The GOP’s hard-line position on immigration, for which Arizona was ground zero, has already begun to alienate this critical constituency.”
Williams goes on, “The hidden consequence of the political divide over immigration in Arizona is that the once solidly red state… is considered by Democrats as up for grabs because the backlash to Gov. Brewer could give President Obama a re-election victory.”