WASHINGTON, D.C. – Presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz took his first major step in advocating for the Hispanic vote by challenging the Obama administration’s economic policies, saying they have disproportionately hurt hardworking Latinos.
Speaking to a roomful of Latino business leaders, advocates and national media in a question-and-answer session hosted by the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, the Texas Republican said that economic growth is the top priority in his campaign, in order to re-ignite business and get “back to the America that we grew up in.”
“(I am committed) to bringing back jobs and economic growth and opportunities,” he said. “I'm campaigning on a simple flat tax where every American can file their taxes on a postcard."
Touching on immigration, Cruz continued to voice his opposition to the Obama administration's plans on addressing the status of millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States.
He said there is a bipartisan agreement outside of Washington that work needs to be done to secure the border, stop illegal immigration and streamline legal immigration.
"I'm the son of an immigrant who came here legally. There is no stronger advocate of legal immigration than I am," he said, reiterating that to pass reform, Congress must focus on a bipartisan agreement.
Cruz added that President Obama and his Democrat counterparts in Congress don't want to actually solve the problems of immigration reform, just use the issue as a scare tactic within the Hispanic community to get votes.
"It is my hope that the next president will lead in bringing people together on a common ground," he said.
Cruz said Americans, regardless of race, gender or ethnicity, fundamentally believe in hard work to expand their opportunities. He said Latinos take pride in earning their keep.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Hispanic panhandler,” he said. “I think it’s because in our community it’s shameful… If you want someone working to the bone, you will have Hispanics lining up.”
Cruz added: “The biggest lie in all of politics is that Republicans are the party of the rich.”
The Wednesday afternoon event marked a departure for Cruz, who has been criticized for rarely taking part in Latino-sponsored events on the national level.
It comes just weeks after the Hispanic Chamber’s president Javier Palomarez assailed Cruz during a meeting with reporters for skipping the organization’s annual legislative summit and not taking part in other chamber events.
Palomarez charged that Cruz was trying to avoid Hispanics for fear of alienating the GOP conservative base.
Cruz's campaign quickly denied the charge, saying the summit had been held at a busy time for the senator, who that week launched his presidential campaign.
“I think the core issue this race will come down to is trust — who do Republican primary voters trust to do what they said they’d do,” Cruz said toward the end of the event. “People are fed up with politicians who say one thing on the campaign trail and then don’t follow through and do what they said.”
Cruz said he can appeal to Latino voters and pointed to the 40 percent of the Latinos who voted for him in Texas when he ran for Senate "at the same time that Romney got clobbered with 27 percent of the Hispanic vote."
"I think our country is in crisis right now. What we are doing is not working," he said. "Millions of people are hurting. The Hispanic community is hurting."