Sept. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Miguel Angel Ibarra and his friends almost decided to go elsewhere when they saw a line out the door at the El Caminero taqueria in Mexico City.
He was later glad they didn’t. He now can tell friends in California, Ohio and Texas about crossing paths with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a potential 2016 Republican U.S. presidential candidate who stopped there for lunch two days ago during a trade visit to Mexico.
Christie and possible Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, the former U.S. secretary of state and first lady, were in Mexico yesterday about two years before the party conventions where the presidential candidates will be formally nominated. Visits to America’s southern neighbor can help woo U.S. Hispanic voters who may be pivotal in the election, Ibarra said.
“This is a very good signal, because it shows that they care about Mexico and see the Latino community in the U.S. as very important,” said Ibarra, 42, sitting on a bar stool two days ago about 10 feet from Christie, who was eating beef tacos with cheese and onions, and chatting with advisers.
“Lots of Mexicans have family in the U.S.,” Ibarra said. “When they hear that a candidate came here, it shows them that the person really values the Latino community.”
The Republican Party in particular is trying to gain Hispanic votes after Mitt Romney received just 27 percent support in his failed 2012 presidential bid.
Christie, 51, met with President Enrique Pena Nieto and with Mexican business leaders on his three-day visit. Clinton, who was in Mexico City yesterday for an event honoring students receiving scholarships from billionaire Carlos Slim’s charity, also met with the 48-year-old Mexican president, accompanied by U.S. ambassador Tony Wayne, according to an e-mailed statement from Pena Nieto’s press office. Wayne became the U.S. envoy to Mexico in 2011 during Clinton’s State Department tenure.
The trip marks Christie’s second abroad as governor; he went to Israel in 2012. Clinton visited more than 100 countries in four years as President Barack Obama’s chief diplomat, including five trips to Mexico.
Christie said travel alone doesn’t prepare a person to be commander-in-chief.
“It’s the accumulation of experience and knowledge over time,” he told reporters. “I feel like all these trips contribute to making me a better public servant. Whether that will play itself out as a candidate for president, that is something that I’m nowhere near deciding.”
Clinton, 66, said yesterday she’ll decide early next year whether to run again for president.
“I have a very clear vision with an agenda of what I think needs to be done,” she said at Mexico City’s National Auditorium.
“Mexico has one of the brightest futures of any country in the world,” she said. Clinton also recalled that she and former President Bill Clinton spent their honeymoon in Acapulco.
In addition to Clinton, the Slim foundation event features Facebook Inc. Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg, Brazilian soccer star Ronaldinho and actor Antonio Banderas. A Slim-backed charity contributed at least $1 million to the Clinton Foundation’s drive to raise $250 million for its endowment.
U.S. law bans foreigners such as Slim, who was born and lives in Mexico, from giving to political campaigns, so a possible Clinton presidential run wouldn’t be competing for his contributions.
Christie’s Mexico agenda went beyond a culinary exchange. He said he and Pena Nieto discussed Mexico’s drive to open the energy industry to foreign investment and plans for a new Mexico City airport. Speaking to the American Chamber of Commerce of Mexico, the governor called for an end to the 39-year-old U.S. ban on crude oil exports and approval of TransCanada Corp.’s stalled Keystone XL pipeline.
Yesterday, Christie had breakfast at the home of Puebla Governor Rafael Moreno Valle in the state capital several hours’ drive east of Mexico City. He visited a school, where Christie said, “hola,” while shaking the 5-year-olds’ hands and exchanging fist bumps with others.
Asked two days ago by reporters about immigration policy and what to do about a surge of unaccompanied minors from Central America at the U.S. southern border, Christie said he will give his views “if and when I become a candidate for president of the United States.”
“Until that time, I have no role in the immigration debate, except for how it may affect the individual citizens of New Jersey, which I’ll deal with as governor,” he said.
A Republican National Committee report after Romney’s 2012 loss called on the party to “embrace and champion comprehensive” immigration changes. Immigration legislation is stalled in Congress, where House Republicans refused to take up a bipartisan plan passed by the Democratic-controlled Senate.
For Hispanic- and Asian-Americans, who will account for one in four U.S. voters by 2020, creating a route to citizenship for undocumented immigrants will be “a key determinant” in how they vote in the 2016 presidential election, according to a Bloomberg Government study last year.
At El Caminero, Christie sat on a bar stool near a counter and a wall sign advertising six tacos for 82 pesos ($6.20) and 30-peso Corona beers.
Christie aides filled many of the bar’s 30-some seats as beef, cheese, onions and bacon sizzled on an open grill.
“We’re very happy that he came,” said El Caminero’s owner, Rodrigo March, 44, whose father started the business in 1968. The restaurant, with a sheet-metal and concrete roof, is near the U.S. embassy. The most famous previous visitors were U.S. ambassadors Jeffrey Davidow and Tony Garza, March said.
“I have friends in Hoboken, and they’ve told me about him before,” March said, referring to the New Jersey governor. “This visit shows the importance he places on Latinos in the U.S.”
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