Election 2008: On the Campaign Trail

McCain, Obama and the Latino Vote

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The Latino vote could be pivotal in the fall election. Both presidential candidates showed up Saturday to speak at the annual meeting of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, called NALEO.


In the U.S. presidential contest, the Latino vote is crucial for both Senators John McCain and Barack Obama. That's likely why both presidential candidates showed up yesterday in Washington to speak at the annual meeting of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials called NALEO. NPR's David Welna was there and has this report.

DAVID WELNA: Latino officials are more likely to be Democrats than Republicans. But those at the NALEO conference warmed up to John McCain when he let loose with some quirky humor.

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona): Thank you very much, mayor, and thank you for representing the great state of California that has stolen Arizona's water.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Senator MCCAIN: Thank you very much.

WELNA: Others though, were less welcoming to this staunch defender of the war in Iraq.

(Soundbite of protester)

Unidentified Woman: Bring our troops home. Lead them out in Iraq. You have the power...

WELNA: The protest seemed to generate sympathy from McCain. He, in turn, promised to make the politically risky issue of immigration reform a top priority but with a caveat.

Senator MCCAIN: In the Congress you hear some straight talk. We will not succeed in the Congress of the United States until we convince the majority of American people that we have border security. But that does not have to be done in an inhumane or cruel fashion.

WELNA: Barack Obama got an even warmer reception when he spoke after McCain. He said he admired McCain's efforts to push through comprehensive immigration reform.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): But what he didn't mention is that when he was running for his party's nomination he walked away from that commitment. He said that he wouldn't even support his own legislation if it came up for a vote.

(Soundbite of applause)

WELNA: But beyond going after his opponent, Obama clearly aimed to strengthen ties with some of the nation's top Latino officials.

Senator OBAMA: I am so proud to be here today. Not just as the Democratic nominee for president but as the first African-American nominee of my party. And I'm hoping that somewhere out there in the audience sits the person who will be the first Latino nominee in a major party.

(Soundbite of applause)

WELNA: Former Hillary Clinton campaign adviser Maria Echaveste says Obama still has a lot of work to do to win over Latinos.

Ms. MARIA ECHAVESTE (Former Campaign Adviser, Hillary Clinton): On the ground in so many communities the tensions between African-American and Latinos, especially Latino immigrants, are something that the national leaders haven't been as quick to confront.

WELNA: John McCain, meanwhile, is pinning his hopes on independent Latinos like Dan Rodriguez of New York.

Mr. DAN RODRIGUEZ: As of now, I am still uncommitted. I want to see who both candidates choose to be the vice president. That I believe a lot of America wants to see, and that will be telling.

WELNA: David Welna, NPR News, Washington.

HANSEN: Coming up in the program, the future of e-politics. The political director of the social networking site, MySpace, as well as Senator John McCain's deputy e-campaign director, speak out.

And planning ahead, we want you to help us build a series about race and politics. How has your life experience shaped your opinion about race and politics? Get in touch. To send video, audio or something in writing, go to npr.org/soapbox and scroll down to the "race and politics" link.

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