Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama addressed Latino leaders Tuesday as both candidates seek the support of Hispanic voters. Campaign advisers discuss the appeals to this key voting bloc and weigh the power of the Hispanic electorate in battleground states.
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With more than 9 million Latinos expected to vote this fall, John McCain and Barack Obama have stepped up their courtship of this key constituency.
That effort continued today, as the presidential rivals addressed the League of United Latin American Citizens in Washington.
McCain went first and focused primarily on the economy.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), Ariz.: Small businesses are the job engine of America. And I'll make it easier for them to grow and create more jobs. There are 2 million — 2 million Latino-owned businesses in America, a number that's growing very rapidly, 2 million of them.
The first consideration we should have when debating tax policy is how we can help those companies grow and increase the prosperity of the millions of American families whose economic security depends on their success.
Near the end of his remarks, McCain raised Congress's stalled attempts to pass comprehensive immigration reform last year.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN:
Many Americans, with good cause, didn't believe us when we said we would secure our borders, so we failed in our efforts. We must prove to them that we can and will secure our borders first, while respecting the dignity and rights of citizens and legal residents of the United States of America.
But we must not make the mistake of thinking that our responsibility to meet this challenge will end with that accomplishment. We have economic and humanitarian responsibilities, as well, and they require no less dedication from us in meeting them.
Obama spoke to the Latino group late this afternoon and accused McCain of backing down from the fight over immigration reform.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), Ill.: I want to give Senator McCain credit, because he used to buck his party on immigration. He fought for comprehensive immigration reform. One of the bills that I co-sponsored, he was the lead. I admired him for it.
But when he started running for his party's nomination, he abandoned his courageous stance and said that he wouldn't even support his own legislation if it came up for a vote.
Well, for eight long years, we've had a president who's made all kinds of promises to Latinos on the campaign trail, but failed to live up to them in the White House. And we can't afford that anymore. We need a president who isn't going to walk away from something as important as comprehensive reform when it becomes politically unpopular.
Obama also made a direct plea to those in the crowd, noting their support could be critical in a number of states.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA:
But I can't do it on my own. I need your help. This election could well be decided by Latino voters.
Every four years, some of the closest contests take place in Florida, Colorado, and Nevada, and New Mexico. And guess what? Those are all states with Latino populations.
In 2004, 40,000 Latinos who were registered to vote in New Mexico didn't turn out on election day. Senator Kerry lost that state by less than 6,000 votes, 6,000 votes. That's a small fraction of the number of Latinos who aren't even registered to vote in New Mexico today.
So while I know how powerful a community you are, I also know how powerful you could be on November 4th, if you translate your numbers into votes.
Obama and McCain are scheduled to address yet another influential Hispanic group, the National Council of La Raza, this weekend in San Diego.