Republican Gov. Chris Christie has picked up the endorsement of a major Latino group that backed Democratic incumbent Jon Corzine in the last election.
Martin Perez of the Latino Leadership Alliance said Thursday the organization is supporting Christie because of his commitment to public schools, small businesses and immigration reform.
“Gov. Christie has shown he is the type of leader who can transform this state,” said Perez, whose group represents more than 500 churches as well as Latino police, firefighter and civic organizations. “We have found him to be a good listener who has shown a genuine interest in getting to know us and learn our concerns.”
Christie said the endorsement highlights positions that Latinos and Republicans share, and should serve as a model for the GOP nationally to reach out to this growing voting bloc that supported Democrat Barack Obama by more than 70 percent in November.
“We cannot expect to get the support of the Latino community if we cannot make the Latino community feel welcome in our party,” Christie, a rising Republican star and possible presidential contender in 2016, said to rousing applause.
Christie said he and Perez met 11 years ago when Christie was U.S. Attorney and the Latino coalition president came to him with concerns about urban crime and immigration. The group backed Corzine over Christie in 2009, but with some public dissent, and Christie said the action made him redouble his efforts to win their support after winning the election.
Christie nominated Perez to the Rutgers University Board of Governors in 2011, and when the nomination was blocked by a Democratic senator representing the city, Christie bypassed the Senate and made the appointment directly. Perez will be the second Latino on the board starting in July.
The endorsement came in New Brunswick, which is in the back yard of the likely Democratic nominee for governor, state Sen. Barbara Buono.
Buono, of Metuchen, will receive an endorsement from the Communications Workers of America, the largest of New Jersey’s state worker unions, on Friday.