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McCain, Obama Pitch Economic Plans To Hispanics

by LIZ SIDOTI and CHARLES BABINGTON, Associated Press Writers

WASHINGTON – Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama pitched competing economic plans to Hispanics on Tuesday, the second time in as many weeks the presidential candidates directly appealed to this critical constituency.

The rivals, to be sure, were pressing anew their support for comprehensive immigration reform, a bedrock issue for Spanish-speaking Americans, in separate speeches to the League of United Latin American Citizens.

But each was primarily focused on making his case that he – and not his opponent – could best lead the country out of economic straits and help the middle class achieve prosperity.

It’s a poignant message for the audience, an organization that advocates social and economic policies benefiting Hispanics. The economy, health care, education and providing opportunities to reach what politicians call the American dream are issues that resonate strongly with members of the fastest growing minority group, many of whom came to the United States in search of a better life.

So, both candidates sought to show they best relate to – and can help – voters struggling with gas prices, job layoffs and home foreclosures.

“At its core, the economy isn’t the sum of an array of bewildering statistics,” McCain said. “It’s about the aspirations of the American people to build a better life for their families; dreams that begin with a job.”

“I have a plan to grow the economy, create more and better jobs, and get America moving again,” the Arizona senator added, promising to help small businesses prosper, make health care more affordable, improve education and free the country from its dependence on foreign oil.

“If you believe you should pay more taxes, I am the wrong candidate for you,” McCain said. “Jobs are the most important thing our economy creates.”

Later, in his prepared remarks, Obama promised to “restore fairness to our economy by putting a tax cut into the pockets of workers and small business owners; by ending tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas and giving them to companies that create good jobs here at home; by solving the housing crisis, and giving relief to struggling homeowners, and investing in infrastructure to create new jobs in the construction industry thats been so hard hit.”

He laced his speech with criticisms of McCain’s economic plans for more tax cuts for large corporations and the wealthy, for a health insurance plan Obama said “will make you pay taxes on your health care for the first time ever” and for abandoning “his courageous stance” on comprehensive immigration reform.

Obama was to be introduced by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, one of the nation’s most prominent Hispanic politicians. Villaraigosa supported Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Democratic primary season but has backed Obama since it ended.

Last month, McCain and Obama pledged to make overhauling the country’s immigration a priority in separate appearances to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials conference. McCain assured that audience that he wouldn’t pursue the enforcement-only approach sought by hard-line GOP conservatives, while Obama accused McCain of walking away from comprehensive immigration reform.

Obama was expected to make the same arguments again, though his remarks were to focus more broadly on the economy.

Both McCain and Obama support a temporary worker program and eventual path to citizenship for millions of immigrants in the country illegally. But after a comprehensive Senate bill failed last summer amid coast-to-coast public outcry that split the GOP, McCain has added that the borders must be secure first before people will accept other reforms.

Both candidates also are scheduled to speak to the National Council of La Raza annual conference in San Diego later this month.

They are making aggressive plays for this fickle Democratic-leaning group that could tip the balance in battleground states.

“This election could well be decided by Latino voters,” Obama told the league meeting. “Every four years some of the closest contests take place in Florida, Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico states with large Latino communities. In 2004, 40,000 Latinos who were registered to vote in New Mexico didnt turn out on Election Day, and Sen. Kerry lost that state by less than 6,000 votes.”

He noted that well over 6,000 Latinos arent even registered to vote in New Mexico today. “So while I know how powerful a community you are, I also know how powerful you could be on Nov. 4th if you translate your numbers into votes,” he said.

A recent AP-Yahoo News poll showed that Obama leads McCain among Hispanics, 47 percent to 22 percent with 26 percent undecided.

Still, Obama, who is trying to become the first black president, doesn’t have a lock on Hispanics. During the primaries, Hispanics preferred Clinton to Obama by nearly 2-to-1.

McCain senses an opportunity based on his links to the West and Republican inroads four years ago.

President Bush captured about 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004, to Democratic rival John Kerry’s 58 percent, down from the 62 percent former Vice President Al Gore got in 2000. Still, in the 2006 congressional elections, Democrats scored their biggest win among Hispanics since 1996.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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