- Associated Press - Thursday, March 3, 2016

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez is endorsing Marco Rubio’s presidential bid - support from a rising Republican star that will undoubtedly boost the Florida senator’s sway among some Latino voters.

The Rubio campaign and Martinez’s office announced the endorsement Thursday and said Martinez will make it official Friday during a scheduled campaign event in Kansas.

“Marco Rubio is a compelling leader who can unite the country around conservative principles that will improve the lives of all Americans,” Martinez said in a statement. “The stakes for our great country are too high - and the differences between the candidates too great - for me to remain neutral in this race.”

Martinez is Mexican American and Rubio is Cuban American, two ethnic groups that historically have been at odds politically.

In recent years, a new generation of voters has ease over those tensions. However, many Mexican-American Democrats have been critical of Cuban American Republicans like Rubio who oppose new immigration reforms, even though federal law allows Cuban immigrants to stay in the U.S. regardless of status.

Rubio mentioned Martinez’s name back in November when discussing potential running mates, but Martinez has largely shrugged off questions about higher political aspirations.

The backing from the nation’s only Latina governor and the chair of the Republican Governors Association comes days after Martinez refused to say whether she would support Donald Trump if he became the Republican nominee.

A recent Associated Press survey of GOP senators and governors across the country showed just under half of respondents would not commit to backing Trump if he’s the nominee.

Their reluctance foreshadowed a potential split in the party this fall.

During a bill signing in Hobbs on a measure protecting sexual abuse victims, Martinez repeated her support for Rubio, the Hobbs News-Sun reported (http://goo.gl/34FN6C).

When asked if she would endorse Trump if he wins the Republican ticket, Martinez reiterated her belief in Rubio.

“Marco Rubio is going to be the next nominee for president of the United States,” Martinez said.

Martinez previously denounced Trump following comments he made about Mexican immigrants, when he compared them to rapists and drug dealers.

“I think those are horrible things to say about anyone or any culture … anyone of any ethnicity,” said Martinez at the time. “I mean, that is uncalled for … completely.”

She also told The Associated Press she didn’t know and didn’t follow Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas after he announced he was running for president.

Joe Kabourek, executive director of the Democratic Party of New Mexico, shrugged off the Martinez endorsement and said it wasn’t a “credible act” to take seriously.

“You know a campaign is desperate when it touts the endorsement of a scandalous governor presiding over a state with the highest unemployment rate,” Kabourek said.

New Mexico Democrats said the governor’s recent line-item veto of a detox facility and shelter near the Navajo Nation showed she was out-of-touch with those suffering from poverty.

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Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/russell-contreras .

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