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Obama, McCain court rising Latino vote

Hispanics could decide the outcome in some swing states in the West.

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A Hispanic surge for Obama could help deliver heavily Hispanic Western states to him, says Matt Barreto, a political scientist at the University of Washington in Seattle who researches voter behavior.

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A survey of 800 Latino registered voters in 21 states in early June, which Mr. Barreto helped to conduct, found that 60 percent planned to vote for Obama, while Senator McCain garnered 23 percent. The rest were undecided. A June 24 Associated Press-Yahoo News poll showed Obama leading McCain among Hispanics, 47 to 22 percent, with 26 percent undecided.

Presidential candidates paid little heed to Latino voters until 2000, when George W. Bush spent more to reach them than did his Democratic challenger, Al Gore, Barreto says. That election was the "turning point when both campaigns and candidates did major and aggressive Latino outreach," he says. "Before, it was sporadic. It would happen here and there."

Immigration issues are not the most pressing ones for Hispanic voters, says Barreto. His survey put immigration third on their list of important issues, trailing jobs and the economy and the war in Iraq.

"It's the economy, it's healthcare. These are the issues we care about," says Reynaldo Casas, a public-relations director with the Spanish music channel MTV Tr3s during an NCLR panel on Hispanic youths, the media, and the coming vote.

On those issues, McCain can make strides with Hispanic voters, says Bob Pacheco, McCain's Latino coalition chairman for California. His message about supporting small-business owners and working to improve the economy resonates throughout the Hispanic community, which is hurting amid high gasoline prices and the housing crisis, he says. "One thing that is very important in the Latino community is jobs, having a small business, and taxes."

The Hispanic community is also religious – and often very traditional on social issues, says Mr. Pacheco. McCain's conservative message will win over this subset of Hispanics, he predicts. President Bush won about 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004.

Still, immigration policy is a concern to many Hispanics, who want the next administration to address it head on.

Assemblywoman Saldaña says McCain will have to "dance a very interesting two-step to serve both his ... Republican base and Latino families who are concerned about raids and deportations."

Last month, during separate appearances at a conference of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, McCain and Obama each pledged to make an overhaul of US immigration policy a priority. McCain said he wouldn't pursue the enforcement-only approach sought by hard-line conservatives, while Obama accused McCain of walking away from comprehensive immigration reform.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.