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PROVIDENCE — The Latino Victory Fund on Friday endorsed Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea in the 2022 Rhode Island governor’s race, giving her access to a national network at a time when she lags in campaign cash.

The group said Gorbea would be the first Latina elected governor in New England and the first Puerto Rican-born governor stateside.

“Secretary Gorbea’s historic candidacy reflects the Latino community’s growing political power in New England states, including Rhode Island,” Latino Victory Fund president and CEO Nathalie Rayes said. “Secretary Gorbea has improved the lives of Rhode Islanders, from voter protection to expanding small business opportunities.”

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Gorbea announced her candidacy in May, but has trailed in fundraising in what promises to be a hotly contested Democratic primary. At the end of the second quarter, she had $668,000 in campaign funds – less than half the $1.5 million in General Treasurer Seth Magaziner’s campaign account and just behind Governor Daniel J. McKee, who has $716,000 after posting his best fund-raising quarter to date.

On Wednesday, former secretary of state Matt Brown shook up the race, announcing his candidacy for governor atop a slate of progressive candidates, including state Senator Cynthia Mendes, who is running for lieutenant governor, and other Rhode Island Political Cooperative candidates. He begins with just $49 in his campaign account.

Gorbea served as Brown’s deputy secretary of state from 2003 to 2007.

On Wednesday, Brown told the Globe that he and Gorbea “just have very different visions for the state.” For example, he said, “I would raise taxes on the top 1 percent. She wouldn’t do that.” Also, he said Gorbea canvassed for former House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello, a conservative Cranston Democrat, while he was trying to oust Mattiello.

In an interview, Gorbea responded, saying Brown has not talked to her in two years. “He has no idea what I would do or wouldn’t do,” she said.

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While raising taxes on the wealthiest remains a future policy option, Gorbea said Rhode Island now has $1.1 billion in federal funding and should focus on spending that before looking at any changes in tax policy.

As for canvassing with Mattiello, Gorbea said he was House speaker at the time when the legislature had passed “a dozen pieces of progressive legislation” that she’d supported. “He asked me to walk with him in his district,” she said. “I said yes, walked for 20 minutes, and that was it.”

Gorbea said she is “honored” to receive the Latino Victory Fund endorsement. “It shows respect by a national organization that sees a lot of candidate across the United States and sees me as someone they want to see go further,” she said.

The Latino Victory Fund is backing Gorbea over another Latino candidate, Dr. Luis Daniel Muñoz, who announced in April and has $3,600 in his campaign account.

Rayes noted the Latino Victory Fund has supported Gorbea before and said she has a “proven track record” as secretary of state. “She has won statewide, and she has a clear path to victory,” she said. “This is what we mean when building the pipeline, we support them throughout their career. We can see the finish line victory with Nellie.”

The endorsement allows Gorbea to tap into a national network, and the group might make an “independent expenditure” on her behalf, Rayes said. In addition to financial support, she said, “Our staff really becomes part of her staff team.”

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In the 2020 census, Latinos drove the country’s population growth, and Hispanics now make up 18.7 percent of the US population. In Rhode Island, the Hispanic or Latino population grew by nearly 40 percent over the past decade and now represents 16.6 percent of the state population.

But Latinos hold just 1 percent of “political power” at all levels of government in the United States, Rayes said. “We need to start picking up the pace,” she said.

In addition to Gorbea, the Latino Victory Fund also is backing New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is seeking re-election after becoming the first Democratic Latina elected governor in US history, Rayes said.

The group has not made an endorsement in the Maryland governor’s race, which includes two Latino candidates, she said. One is Tom Perez, a Brown University graduate and former Democratic National Committee chairman.

The Latino Victory Fund was co-founded by Eva Longoria Bastón and Henry R. Muñoz III in 2014, aiming to build political power within the Latino community.


Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.