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Popular governor finds allies among Hispanics

January 22, 2014

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has found unlikely allies among the nation’s Hispanic community even as scandal threatens his image as a straight-talking politician able to rise above partisan squabbling.

In New Jersey and beyond, some minority leaders usually aligned with Democrats are giving the Republican governor the benefit of the doubt regarding controversies that have enveloped his office, in part because of Christie’s aggressive courtship of minority voters throughout his first four years in office.

Just days before an apparent case of political retribution by his office was exposed this month, Christie signed a new law granting in-state college tuition rates to New Jersey immigrants in the country illegally, winning national praise from Hispanic officials.

The gesture may alienate some conservatives in the next presidential election should he seek the White House in 2016, but it helped cement Christie’s status as one of the Hispanic community’s more popular Republicans.

“We don’t want to judge anything before all the facts are out. Gov. Christie has said he did not know about it. Right now, there’s no evidence to the contrary,” said the Rev. Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition.

Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, suggested that Democrats are pushing new allegations against Christie because they’re afraid of his strength as a prospective 2016 presidential candidate.

“I just don’t see the huge scandal,” Aguilar said, describing Christie’s popularity among Hispanics as a potential “game changer” for the Republican Party.

Christie has apologized and fired senior aides for his administration’s role in traffic jams apparently engineered last fall to punish a Democratic mayor who refused to endorse his re-election campaign. The Democratic-led state Legislature is investigating the incident. Another Democratic mayor said over the weekend that the Christie administration balked on delivering Superstorm Sandy aid unless she supported a prime real estate project.

The Hispanic community is by no means unified behind Christie. And even those pleased with his minority outreach suggest their views could change should new evidence surface in the abuse-of-power allegations.

The Republican’s last presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, won just 27 percent of the national Hispanic vote. A year later, Christie captured roughly half of Hispanic voters in an overwhelming New Jersey re-election victory that served as the opening argument for a potential presidential bid. Republican strategists concede that the party must improve its standing among the growing demographic if it hopes to take back the White House.

Christie has refused to say whether he supports federal legislation outlining a pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants in the country illegally. But in New Jersey, minority leaders report that he began reaching out almost immediately after taking office

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