Washington, D.C. – The gospel singer with the long brown hair sang about God’s love, as members of the mostly evangelical audience stood and raised their hands, palms open and facing the stage like radar dishes receiving a signal from the performer.
Unlike most gospel singers in the United States, however, Jessica Nuñez, also a minister, sang in Spanish.
Thousands of Latino faith leaders from across the country congregated in Washington, D.C., this week for the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast and Conference, a non-denominational meeting of mostly evangelical Christians that culminated with the Thursday morning event.
"It is the largest representative body of Latino evangelicals in the world, and we come together to advocate for our community," Rev. Luis Cortes Jr, the head of Esperanza, a national evangelical group based in Philadelphia that organizes the annual breakfast, said in an interview with Fox News Latino.
The National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast has had a cavalcade of elected officials address attendees in recent years that includes Pres. Barack Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – who has spoken to the group three times – and former President George W. Bush who has given a total of six speeches here.
Both Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi addressed the conference this year.
It’s no surprise: The Latino faith-based community is booming. According to the Pew Research Center, 16 percent of Hispanics in the United States now consider themselves Evangelical, and a quarter of all Latinos now identify as Protestant, a sharp increase.
"The Hispanic faith-based community has been growing exponentially," Cortes, who looks more like a college professor with his glasses and beard, explained.
According to Pew, Latino faith-based voters have been more inclined to vote in presidential elections than the majority of Hispanic voters. In effect, Cortes says, Latino Protestants are a group whose pendulum has swung between the two parties.
"In the last major elections, Bill Clinton won the Hispanic evangelical community, and he became president. George W. Bush won the Hispanic evangelical community twice, and he became president," Cortes said emphatically. "Barack Obama got the majority. He got 60% of the Hispanic evangelical vote, and he became president."
"We are up for grabs again," Cortes said, and the speakers seem to realize it.
"Que Dios te bendiga," Priebus told the crowd in Spanish, concluding his remarks on Wednesday with the Spanish for ”May God bless you” after a speech that highlighted recent successes by prominent Latino Republicans including New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval.
A couple of Republicans running for the White House are being giving a long look by attendees – Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American Catholic who used to attend an evangelical church – and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a Catholic convert who addressed a Texas conference of Latino Evangelicals in March.
"They have made positive statements on immigration," Cortes said, adding that many of those in attendance are also interested in Hillary Clinton – who remains popular among Hispanic voters.
"She has been to our community, she has spoken at our schools and she spoke here three times at the National Hispanic Prayer breakfast," Cortes said.
"We have a relationship with her, and we have a relationship with the Bush family," Cortes added, “but nobody gets a vote because of who they are. They have to earn our votes, just like they have to earn the votes of every American."
"It is an open field," the Rev. Pablo Diaz, a minister from Danbury, Connecticut, told FNL.
He explained that because the Hispanic faith-based community is predominately socially-conservative many here would consider voting for Republicans, but probably not billionaire Donald Trump.
During his presidential announcement on Tuesday, Trump made controversial remarks in which he described a large percentage of undocumented immigrants – whom he referred to principally as Mexicans – as “rapists" and criminals.
"Trump’s remarks did not help," Diaz said. "[He] alienated, isolated and really reinforced some of the stereotypes of Latinos, especially the Mexican community."