McCain has opening with Hispanics

McCain has opening with Hispanics

By Raul Reyes – USA TODAY

Every Sunday night my family gets together in East L.A. for tamales, enchiladas and a few helpings of political discourse. Recently we had a heated debate on the relative merits of Hillary Clinton vs. Barack Obama.

True to the Latino demographic, nearly all 15 people around the table were for Clinton. My younger cousins and I were the only ones backing Obama. But what if Clinton doesn’t get the nomination, I asked. After a pause, my aunt remarked that then she might consider voting for John McCain. Her comment brought thoughtful nods from the others in the room.

I was shocked. You see, I come from a long line of true-blue Chicano Democrats. But my family’s reaction indicates that Democrats can no longer take the Latino vote for granted. Being political free agents may serve us better in the long run. That realization has forced me to take a more open-minded look at McCain.

Although Hispanics have been deserting the GOP, McCain is well-positioned to win them back. The Arizona senator risked his standing among conservatives by supporting comprehensive immigration reform. At a GOP debate, he dared to call illegal immigrants “God’s children.” He has reminded audiences that many Hispanic names are on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and that many Hispanics are fighting in Iraq.

McCain’s moderate stance on immigration effectively erases one glaring difference between Republicans and Democrats — meaning that both sides will have to compete for Hispanic votes, but on other issues.

Latino Republicans already have embraced McCain. Throughout the GOP primaries to date, he has won nearly half of the Hispanic vote. He also won in states with significant Latino populations, including Texas, California, Florida and New York. With the right message, he could take on the Democratic nominee while broadening his appeal among Latinos. He is a social conservative who is well-known throughout the Southwest, and if he faces Obama, he could siphon votes from Latinos not excited by the Illinois senator.

To do so, though, he must overcome key obstacles: He does not support universal health coverage or a swift end to the Iraq war, two top Latino concerns. He also faces pressure to adopt a more conservative position on immigration. Unlike Obama, he’s gone wobbly on giving 12 million undocumented workers a pathway to citizenship. His emphasis now: border security.

If anyone is up to reconciling these competing interests, it may be the Maverick. McCain, at the moment, is on the right side of reason, compassion and demographics. His Straight Talk Express is on track to bring Latinos — and a brighter future — to the GOP.

Raul Reyes is an attorney in New York and a member of USA TODAY’s board of contributors

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