- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 2, 2014

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie kicks off a three-day trade mission to Mexico on Wednesday in a trip that will give the potential 2016 presidential contender a chance to burnish his foreign policy credentials abroad and bolster his image with Hispanic voters back home.

Mr. Christie plans to meet with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, Cabinet officials and some of the nation’s top business leaders.

The governor also will give a keynote address at an American Chamber of Commerce of Mexico event and deliver remarks at a reception hosted by the Latino Coalition, a U.S.-based network of Hispanic business owners.

The swing through Mexico marks Mr. Christie’s second foreign trip as governor — he traveled to Israel in 2012 — and while his aides tamp down talk of politics, analysts said it will be viewed through that lens for a domestic politician trying to make a mark on the world stage.

“It may be billed as a trade mission to Mexico, but because we are in a hyperspeculative environment related to the 2016 race, the trip will be graded as a political mission,” Republican strategist Kevin Madden said. “Candidates with a full domestic resume have to fill in some of the blanks on their international or foreign policy resume.”

Whoever emerges as the eventual GOP nominee is likely to face off in the general election against former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton or Vice President Joseph R. Biden, each of whom have years of foreign policy experience.

As a result, the field of possible GOP presidential contenders has been busy beefing up their foreign policy prowess with highly publicized trips abroad.

Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas have also made trips to Israel.

Mr. Paul also scored headlines last month when he traveled to Guatemala to perform free eye surgeries, and Mr. Cruz’s team kept the political world abreast of his trips earlier this year to Ukraine and Poland.

Mr. Rubio, meanwhile, visited London in December, where he met with British government officials.

Hector Barreto, chairman of the Latino Coalition, praised Mr. Christie for making the journey to Mexico.

“There couldn’t be a more important time than today for leaders, like Governor Christie, to understand how hugely significant the relationship of Mexico and the United States is,” said Mr. Barreto, former administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration. “As a prominent government official, Christie recognizes the critical problems both nations face in regards to trade, security, economic growth, immigration, energy and education. He recognizes that the U.S. needs to strengthen ties and bridge the gap between two nations with shared borders and history.”

Mr. Barreto told The Washington Times that the trip makes sense because Mexico is New Jersey’s second-biggest trading partner, behind Canada, and said it offers Mr. Christie a chance to build upon his success of reaching out to Hispanics.

“There are not a lot of Republicans, no matter what state you’re from, that get 50 percent of the Hispanic vote,” he said, alluding to Mr. Christie’s successful 2013 re-election, where he did particularly well among Hispanics.

The trip comes as President Obama mulls over how best to handle the influx of unaccompanied children from Central America that make their way through Mexico, complicating U.S.-Mexico relations.

Mr. Obama has said he will move unilaterally to address the problem after Congress failed to do what he wanted.

For his part, Mr. Christie has criticized Mr. Obama for not traveling to the southern border and has taken issue with the idea that the federal government is putting some of these children with sponsors who could be living in the country illegally.

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