McCain's Mixed Messages on Immigration : Vox Politics This campaign season, Republican presidential candidate John McCain has revised, recanted and then revived his longtime support for comprehensive immigration reform. Now, critics say he's cynically putting out one message in English, and another i...
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McCain's Mixed Messages on Immigration

This campaign season, Republican presidential candidate John McCain has revised, recanted and then revived his longtime support for comprehensive immigration reform. Now, critics say he's cynically putting out one message in English, and another in an intensifying Spanish ad campaign.

"It's disturbing to me, as a Hispanic, to have someone who feels he can blatantly deceive and think people won't pay attention," says Andres Ramirez, vice president for Hispanic programs at NDN, a pro-Democrat research group.

For several weeks, McCain and Democratic candidate Barack Obama have had a tit-for-tat air war en espanol over last year's Senate bill to overhaul immigration. Each campaign has been accused of making misleading statements in the ads, but McCain's clear, implied message to Latinos is that he -- and only he -- supports a large-scale legalization.

Here's McCain's latest salvo:

Last weekend, though, McCain issued a contradictory message -- in English. It came after Obama campaigned in North Carolina, a state where a fast-growing Hispanic population has made immigration a red-hot issue. Obama repeated his support for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers, and for allowing undocumented students to have in-state tuition at public colleges.

Barack Obama gave this interview on NPR member-station WUNC.

The McCain campaign was quick to respond. In a statement, it said Senator McCain does not support "amnesty" or in-state tuition. (Again, this was in contrast to the Senator's actual record. In past years he -- like Obama -- has co-sponsored the DREAM act, which would allow immigrant students without legal status to pay in-state tuition.)

Critics say McCain has also been sending different messages depending on which part of the country he's in, speaking more moderately about immigration in the Hispanic-heavy southwest, while taking a harder line in the southeast, where opposition to illegal immigration runs strong. Obama, by contrast, has consistently supported a comprehensive approach, even if he hasn't pushed the topic much on the campaign trail.

Polls show Latinos overwhelmingly support Obama, a significant shift since 40% of the Hispanic electorate voted for President Bush in 2004. Analysts believe the large Hispanic vote in Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Florida could be decisive in those swing states.