You could decide the U.S. election, Obama tells Latino audience
Last Updated: Tuesday, July 8, 2008 | 5:56 PM ET
The Latino-American vote could be the decisive factor in November's U.S. presidential election, Democratic candidate Barack Obama said Tuesday as he and his Republican rival both appealed to the country's fastest-growing ethnocultural group.Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama at a town hall meeting in Powder Springs, Ga. on Tuesday. (Thinh D. Nguyen/Associated Press)
Obama spoke hours after rival presidential candidate John McCain, both addressing the national convention in Washington, D.C., of the League of United Latin American Citizens.
Obama noted that some of the closest electoral contests have taken place in states like Florida, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico, which have large Latino communities.
He pointed to New Mexico in 2004, where Senator John Kerry lost by less than 6,000 votes.
"Six thousand votes. That's a small fraction of the number of Latinos who aren't even registered to vote in New Mexico today," Obama said. "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.
"I truly believe that if we can register more Latinos, young and old, rich and poor, and turn them out to vote in the fall, then not only will we change the political map, and not only will I win the presidency, but you will have a government that represents all Americans."
Obama said he would make immigration reform a top priority in his first year as president. He criticized McCain, saying the Arizona senator has backed away from his previous efforts on reforming America's immigration policies in favour of appearing a strong defender of border security to the Republican party's right flank, where questions linger about the candidate's conservative credentials.
Earlier, McCain acknowledged that he and other authors of a controversial immigration reform bill had "failed" to convince Americans the measures wouldn't compromise the nation's security.Republican presidential candidate John McCain speaks at the annual convention of the League of United Latin American Citizens on Tuesday in Washington. (Lawrence Jackson/Associated Press)
McCain was a key figure in the bipartisan push for immigration reform last year that provided hope to some 12 million non-status migrants that they would one day be able to stay in the U.S. legally. The bill failed to win enough support amid determined opposition from McCain's own Republican party.
"Many Americans, with good cause, did not believe us when we said we would secure our borders, and so we failed in our efforts," McCain told the national convention.
The League of United Latin American Citizens is one of the largest advocacy organizations for the country's 46 million Latinos, who are widely predicted to be one of the most significant blocks of voters in November's presidential election.
McCain said politicians must prove to Americans that any immigration plan would secure the borders first, while respecting the dignity and rights of citizens and legal residents of the United States.
"But we must not make the mistake of thinking that our responsibility to meet this challenge will end with that accomplishment," he said. "We have economic and humanitarian responsibilities as well, and they require no less dedication from us in meeting them."
Immigration at forefront
Both McCain and Obama have pledged to make immigration reform a priority, but so far have been short on specifics.
The candidates will likely have to offer more details on their immigration and border plans in order to win swing the states with significant Hispanic populations.
While the presumptive Democratic nominee has translated his trademark "Yes we can" into the Spanish "Si se puede," Republican opponent McCain has ads specifically targeting Cuban-American voters.
Hispanics in the United States have traditionally supported Democrats. According to several polls, Obama enjoys almost a two-to-one advantage over McCain among Latino voters, despite overwhelming support for Hillary Clinton among Hispanics in the Democratic primaries.
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Latino who was an early runner for the Democratic presidential nomination and also served as ambassador to the United Nations, has been touted by many as a possible running mate for Obama.
The majority of the League of United Latin American Citizens' members were Clinton supporters, said Alma Morales Riojas, who planned to listen to both candidates Tuesday. But now that Clinton has withdrawn, Riojas, who is also president of the national Latina women's organization MANA, said all bets are off.
"They've seen McCain, coming from Arizona, work with the Latino community," she told CBC News. "I don't know that we've seen Senator Obama work with the Hispanic community, and frankly, I don't think that we've seen him speak on immigration reform.
"So I think both of them have a lot to be able to prove."
Maria Bernal, who lives in a Latino neighbourhood in the U.S. capital, told CBC News that she's going to vote for Obama.
"I think he's going to help a lot of people, poor people," Bernal said. "John McCain, I think he is with the rich people."