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Hispanic GOP group endorses Gingrich

By Gustavo Valdes, CNN
updated 12:20 PM EST, Mon January 16, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Somos Republicans: Newt Gingrich "knows the importance of the Latino community"
  • Spokesman: Gingrich "the most Hispanic-friendly candidate in the race"
  • Group criticizes Mitt Romney's pledge to veto the DREAM Act
  • Pair of S.C. voters tell CNN that Gingrich impressed them on immigration issues

(CNN) -- Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has received the endorsement of the nation's largest Hispanic Republican group.

Somos Republicans, which says it has a membership of 6,000 people, issued a statement Monday saying the former speaker of the House "knows the importance of the Latino community" and "has been working hard for many years to include American Hispanics in the overall conversation for a better America."

"We believe Speaker Gingrich is the most Hispanic-friendly candidate in the race," Steve Rodriguez, a spokesman for the group, told CNN in a phone interview from Colorado.

Gingrich has made a concerted effort reaching to South Carolina Latinos ahead of Saturday's primary in that state.

Gregg Torrales, an independent voter from Columbia, told CNN he was contacted by the Gingrich camp and says he is also considering voting for him.

"Newt Gingrich was the first one to talk about immigration and steps for citizenship when the other candidates would not even consider it," Torrales said.

He said those remarks "raised their antennas" of the Hispanic community in the state.

Diana Salazar, a Democrat from Charleston, said she received received an invitation to a Gingrich event a few weeks ago and was impressed with the candidate.

"I think he is the only one who can do something for the advancement of Latinos," she said.

Salazar, who works as an interpreter, supports immigration reform and has fought the immigration law South Carolina enacted at the start of the year.

Hispanics represent only 5 percent of the South Carolina's population, and an even a smaller percentage is registered to vote, but its open primary format allows people of all parties to participate, which might benefit Gingrich if he can appeal to more Democrats like Salazar.

Gingrich is running neck-and-neck with Mitt Romney in South Carolina. An American Research Group survey of likely Palmetto State voters showed Romney with 29%-25% lead, a difference within the poll's margin of error.

Somos Republicans also noted with regret the withdrawal of former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman from the race, as well as his endorsement of the front-running Romney. Huntsman, the group said, "took a humanitarian approach in supporting children via the Federal DREAM Act," but Romney did not.

However, Romney is making a move for the Hispanic vote in Florida. The former Massachusetts governor released a TV ad in Spanish last week featuring his son Craig, who spent some time in South America doing missionary work, and some prominent Hispanic members of Congress supporting his candidacy.

The ad drew criticism from Latino groups because the legislators featured in the add support the DREAM Act, which would help people who were brought illegally to the United States as children gain a path to legal status by attending college or serving in the military. Romney has said he would veto such legislation.

Romney also caught heat for the endorsement he received from Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who helped write anti-illegal-immigration legislation in Arizona and Alabama.

However, one Latino who participated in a focus group that provided CNN with real-time feedback to during candidates' speeches during New Hampshire's primary, said Romney had won him over.

Edgar Posso, who described himself as an independent who was undecided before the New Hampshire primary, said Romney "gives a sense of confidence and I think he is the candidate we need."

Posso said the policies of President Barack Obama have failed and that a Republican would bring change.

A plant manager for a manufacturing company, Posso said that "as an American, it pains me to know China has a train that can do 300 miles per hour and we have nothing like it."

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