The nation’s largest Hispanic business group is diving into the presidential campaign for the first time — and is skipping over the only Latino still running.
The U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce plans to formally endorse former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, R, for president on Thursday, a shot in the arm for both campaigns at critical moments for each bid.
The move will be seen as a rebuke of Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, the only remaining Latino contender, who isn’t held in high regard anyway by most Hispanic business and political leaders.
Word of the endorsements leaked out after Kasich dropped hints during a private meeting with supporters on Tuesday in Indiana. The support should help bolster the governor’s argument that he has the best general election appeal even if he trails far behind Cruz and GOP front-runner Donald Trump. Recent national polls show that Kasich is the only GOP candidate that could beat Clinton.
But for Clinton, the support comes as she tries to shift attention away from her bitter primary fight with Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and towards a general election with Cruz or GOP front-runner Donald Trump.
Javier Palomarez, the chamber’s president and CEO, hosted public forums with most of the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates — but not — before making a decision.
He credited Kasich for helping create jobs in Ohio and for his push to balance the federal budget as a congressman in the 1990s. He conceded that the governor “doesn’t have a huge track record of working with Hispanics — the guy’s from Ohio, for Christ’s sake. But he has a record of economic growth.”
Clinton, Palomarez said, does have a long record of working with Hispanics, dating back to her time as a Democratic activist registering voters in Texas in the 1970s. He said in a statement that unlike Sanders, “Clinton has demonstrated the ability to enact a robust and pragmatic policy agenda that will allow the Hispanic small business community to thrive and prosper.”
Palomarez conceded in an interview that his group was passing up an opportunity to support Cruz, a fellow Hispanic, whom he knows from back home in Texas. “This is not about being Hispanic,” he said. “This is about selecting the best person for the job.”
“I’m heartbroken, heartbroken that I can’t endorse a Latino,” he added.
“If you look at Ted’s divisive rhetoric about immigrants, it disqualified him from consideration,” Palomarez said. “His inability to work within his own caucus, let alone with Senate Democrats, made it hard for us to consider him. He also pushed for the deportation of up to 12 million people.”
In twin statements announcing the endorsements, the chamber denounced Trump, saying his “hateful rhetoric toward women, immigrants, the disabled, Muslims, and the Hispanic community not only divides our country, but sends a clear message that Hispanic voters won’t forget: he does not stand with our community.”
The chamber represents more than 270 corporations and associations who generate more than $660 billion in annual economic activity. Long known as a Washington-based lobbying organization, it’s opted to become more active in national elective politics this cycle. It’s already endorsed Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., as he faces a tough re-election bid.
Kasich visited Indiana on Tuesday despite agreeing to avoid the Hoosier State as part of an arrangement with Cruz. He went to Indianapolis to headline a long-scheduled campaign fundraiser and to meet with supporters recently elected as delegates to the Republican National Convention.
The governor told the group that he remains committed to campaigning until the convention and that he still hopes to rely on their support if Trump fails to win the GOP nomination on the first ballot, according to one person familiar with the meeting. Kasich enjoys the support of many of the state’s delegates despite not having the financial firepower to compete in the state.
Asked during the meeting to explain why he thinks he’s the most electable Republican candidate, Kasich mentioned that he’d just received word of the chamber’s endorsement, said the person familiar with the meeting who asked for anonymity to speak frankly about the exchange.
News of Kasich’s meeting with the delegates was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
Kasich spokeswoman Emmalee Kalmbach said the governor’s Indiana trip was planned before the pledge to stop campaigning there last Sunday. “This meeting was no different than the two private meetings he held in Pennsylvania last week,” she said in an email. “Another aspect of our outreach strategy to delegates.”
Kasich aides were tight-lipped about the impending endorsement late Wednesday, saying only that it was expected “soon.”
David Weigel contributed to this report.