July 11, 2008
By Audrie Garrison
WASHINGTON - Presumptive Republican and Democratic presidential nominees John McCain and Barack Obama reached out to Hispanic voters Tuesday.
Both spoke at the League of Latin American Citizens Convention, a five-day event that draws more than 15,000 participants each year.
McCain spoke earlier in the day, promising to improve the economy by lifting trade barriers and helping small businesses.
He received a round of applause after mentioning his failed Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007, which would have allowed some immigrants who were in the country illegally to become citizens. He said he would continue to push for immigration reform, adding that it is important to respect the rights of citizens who have immigrated legally.
He reminded the audience his experience working with the Hispanic community.
“I represent the great state of Arizona, where Spanish was spoken before English was,” the senator said. “The character and prosperity of our state owes a great deal to the many Arizonians of Hispanic descent who live there.”
McCain ended his speech by thanking Hispanic Americans for their contributions to the country.
“When you take a silent stroll along that wall of black granite on the National Mall, it’s hard not to notice the many names such as Rodriguez, Hernandez and Lopez that so sadly adorn it,” he said.
Pamela Duran, a 21-year-old University of Richmond student from Ecuador, said McCain shows a strong interest in Hispanic issues and that the most important message was his experience serving in the military with soldiers of Hispanic descent.
Obama talked about diversity, promising a presidency that would make Hispanic interests a high priority.
“The reason diversity is so important is because we have to make sure that we have a government that knows that a problem facing any American is a problem facing all Americans,” he said. “It’s about making sure that our government knows that when there is a Hispanic girl somewhere stuck in a crumbling school who graduates without learning to read, or doesn’t graduate at all, that isn’t just a Hispanic-American problem, that is an American problem that we have to solve.”
Connecticut resident Kathy Miller, 51, who attended Obama’s speech with her daughter, Megan Miller, 22, said she thought this idea of a united country was the most important part of his speech.
“I liked his traditional Democratic themes,” Kathy Miller said. “The way he says that if one of us is down, we all are. No one’s said that in a long time, and I think we needed to hear that.”
Like McCain, Obama spoke in favor of comprehensive immigration reform. But he slammed McCain, saying that McCain originally had the right idea on reform but changed his ways once he became a presidential candidate.
Obama also talked about health care, saying one in three Hispanic-Americans does not have a health care plan.
Obama ended his speech by saying that many states considered keys to the election - Florida, New Mexico and Nevada - have large Hispanic populations.
“This election could well be decided by Latino voters,” he said.
Miredys Gonzalez, a 22-year-old woman from Gainesville, Fla., said she believes Obama is the right vote for the Hispanic community. Gonzalez, who is originally from Cuba, said many of Obama’s messages and goals speak to immigrants and the poor, while McCain’s do not as much.
“I feel the Latino community needs much more what Obama has to offer than what McCain has to offer,” she said.
Carolina Pena, a 21-year-old Maryland resident who is originally from Ecuador, said Mc-Cain represents Hispanic interests better than Obama. She said he has a shown a strong commitment to the Latino population and that she is impressed with his experience in Arizona, a state with a Hispanic population of 29.2 percent in 2006, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
She said she is conflicted about whom to vote for, saying she feels “lured” by Obama’s grassroots movement but is interested in McCain’s message. She said she voted for Obama in the primary but will probably choose McCain in the general election.
“I’m attracted to Obama in my heart, but I think I like McCain in my head,” Pena said.