McCain's Hispanic Hopes Tied to Immigration

Washington Matters

McCain's Hispanic Hopes Tied to Immigration

Can John McCain take back some of the Hispanic vote for the GOP?  Maybe, but it'll be tough sledding and with mediocre results at best.


Conventional wisdom has it that Democrats have a huge advantage with Hispanics, who flirted with Republicans in 2004, but moved back into the Democratic camp when Republicans came on so strong in the immigration debate, blasting plans to let illegal immigrants pay fines and back taxes, undergo a background check and go to the back of the line for the proposed guest worker program. GOP conservatives said that was amnesty, plain and simple and they were against it. Many Hispanics viewed their opposition as thinly-disguised racism and moved to the Democrats, who were far more lenient in their approach. Democrats wanted a comprehensive plan that tightened borders and punished employers who hired illegal immigrants, but insisted it was unrealistic to try to deport 12 million people.

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McCain agreed and cosponsored a comprehensive immigration bill with Sen. Ted Kennedy. The bill was defeated, McCain was vilified and it almost killed his presidential ambitions. To appease GOP conservatives, McCain has since backed off, acknowledging that Americans want border control first and refusing to say whether he would vote today for the bill he sponsored a year ago. That has softened conservative criticism, but there's still a lot of distrust on all sides.


McCain has a good history with Hispanic voters, who overwhelmingly backed his Senate campaigns in Arizona. And many Hispanics still believe that in his heart of hearts, he favors a moderate approach. That gives Republicans a chance to win back some Hispanics, who make up over 10% of eligible voters in several key swing states -- including California, New Mexico, Florida, Colorado and Nevada.


But McCain will have to walk a narrow tightrope this fall -- being careful not to upset GOP conservatives while reaching out to Hispanics. Count on Democrats to put him on the spot as much as possible.


Barack Obama also has to court Hispanics, who so far have favored Hillary Clinton in the primaries. Should he be the nominee, Obama may look for a Hispanic running mate. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is the most prominent, and he would also add strong foreign policy experience, shoring up one of Obama's perceived weaknesses.