McCain Lost Ground with Hispanics, Despite Immigration Stance

Tiffany Gabbay | November 5, 2008 | 7:27pm EST
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Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and wife Cindy right, leave Albright United Methodist Church, Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008, in Phoenix, after voting. (AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, David Kadlubowski)

(CNSNews.com) - Two-thirds of Hispanics – 66 percent – voted in favor of Barack Obama on Election Day, despite Republican John McCain’s long-time support of the Hispanic community, his work on comprehensive immigration reform, and the McCain-Kennedy immigration bill.
 
McCain won 32 percent of the Hispanic vote, less than the 40 percent garnered by President Bush in 2004, but more than the 21 percent that former Sen. Bob Dole received in his presidential race in 1996.
 
McCain, along with Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), had sponsored an immigration-reform bill in 2000 that would have set-up guest-worker visas and created a “pathway to citizenship” for undocumented and illegal immigrants.
 
He also supported comprehensive immigration-reform proposals in Congress in 2006 and again in 2007, both of which went down to defeat.
 
But Mark Lopez, associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center, said that McCain fared poorly among Latino voters because “he had a lot going against him.”
 
“McCain did reach out to the Latino community,” Lopez told CNSNews.com. “He had a group of advisors to help him, and he specifically aimed commercials at Latinos, not just in a few states but across the country, but he was running at a time when there is generally a good level of dissatisfaction with the current administration, and Latinos are no different in (holding) that view.”
 
Although immigration is an important issue to Hispanics, it was not the “top issue,” Lopez said.
 
“The economy, jobs and cost of living were more important issues to Latinos in this election,” he added.
 
A look at key Hispanic demographics that have traditionally leaned conservative, Florida’s Hispanic community flipped from Republican to Democrat.
 
The Florida Hispanic community is more diverse now, comprising young people and Hispanics from Puerto Rico and other Latin American countries. Cubans, who have traditionally voted Republican, are “no longer the majority,” according to Lopez.
 
Lopez said Hispanics feel Democrats might now be more “in tune” with their values and have a better understanding of the issues that are important to them.
 
Cecilia Munoz, senior vice president of the office of research, advocacy and legislation at the National Council of La Raza, told CNSNews.com that “within the Republican field” McCain had been the candidate with “the best opportunity to do really well in the Latino community.”
 
“He always won a solid majority of Latino voters in Arizona,” Munoz added. “He has a very strong record, is very well-known and is very-well respected in the Latino community.”
 
Despite Mc Cain’s popularity, Munoz said the Hispanic community did not come out in full support, because the Republican Party “completely undercut him.”
 
“They became the party of immigrant-bashing, and the Republican brand was badly tarnished in the Latino community,” Munoz said. “He (McCain) was unable to overcome that. There were other candidates in his party that were running on very harsh anti-immigrant tickets and who had harsh anti-immigrant messages. I will say that those candidates lost.”
 
Munoz said she thinks the broader Republican message was a factor in not energizing Hispanic voters.
 
“Even though I think (Hispanics) like and respect Sen. McCain, they felt that he was representing a party that wasn’t with him on this (immigration) issue,” she added.
 
Hispanic conservatives also expressed disillusionment with the Republican “brand.”
 
Mario H. Lopez, president of the Hispanic Leadership Fund, said that it was “unfortunate” that someone with McCain’s track record received such a small portion of the Hispanic vote – but it was equally unfortunate that his campaign “did not dedicate the resources needed to communicate effectively with the Hispanic community.”
 
“His (McCain’s) operation certainly did not approach the level of George Bush’s Hispanic outreach in ’04,” Lopez said.
 
The McCain campaign “missed an opportunity” to remind Hispanics, especially in battle ground states, of “all the things that they do have in common,” Lopez said, including McCain’s position on immigration, and his “conservative positions on taxes and small business.”
 
Lopez said he believes that a backlash against the Republican Party played a large role.
 
“Unfortunately we have a handful of people within the party and within the movement who didn’t care about how their rhetoric sounded during the immigration debate. I think some do not care (how they sounded) and others would change what they said if they knew how badly they came across,” Lopez said.
 
“Regardless, there was a backlash against that kind of rhetoric, and the sooner my fellow conservatives realize that that’s not the way to go if we ever want to be a governing majority again, the better off that the (conservative) movement is going to be,” he added.
 
Lopez told CNSNews.com he hopes conservatives will look at the data and “realize that train has left the station.”
 
“The message is: if you are a conservative and you care about tax cuts, and you care about school choice, and you care about any other number of issues, you have to care about Hispanic outreach,” Lopez said, “because we just cannot ever get to the point where we’re a governing majority again without more Hispanics in the fold.”
 
Lopez said speaking purely as a conservative, “I’d rather see a second Reagan revolution, and sooner rather than later.”
 
Hispanics, who made up eight percent of the total voter turnout, are America’s fastest growing and largest ethnic minority and, according to Lopez, “most of that growth comes from new births and not immigration.”
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