POLITICS

McCain Avoids Immigration In Speech To Latino Voters

07/15/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

John McCain's speechwriters must have done some homework on reaching out to Latino voters. In his speech before the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) on Tuesday, the Arizona Republican wasted no time in describing how he plans to expand economic opportunity for all Americans.

In fact, McCain started making the pitch in the first sentence of his speech, according to the advance transcript: "I'm very pleased to be here to discuss with you some of the issues in this campaign that most concern Americans, particularly the issue that worries us the most - the American economy."

That's notable not only because the economy is the message of the week for his campaign overall (and with such day-to-day coordination not having been the organization's particular strong suit thus far), but because experts seem to agree that the economy is the number one issue Latino voters want to hear discussed.

As CQ noted yesterday:

"In a 2007 Pew Hispanic Center survey, immigration was deemed to be 'very important' or 'extremely important' by 79 percent of respondents, ranking it fifth among the issues tested. Education, health care, the economy and jobs, and crime rated higher, and the Iraq War finished behind immigration with 70 percent of respondents calling it very important or extremely important."

Ranking immigration the fifth most important issue among Latino voters should suit McCain fine, since it gives him a substantive excuse to avoid getting bogged down in the Beltway parlor game of litigating his shifting stance on immigration reform. The DNC has already attempted to bait the Straight Talk Express into making a detour through this issue with web ads such as this one:

But so far McCain has resisted the bait. McCain made only glancing reference to that elephant in the room during his remarks, and instead focused the bulk of his talk on the community's other priorities. And while paeans to small businesses and invective against taxes are staples of McCain's speechifying on the economy, the following, less-typical sounding paragraph from a Republican is set to precede any mention of immigration:

"In the global economy what you learn is what you earn. Today, studies show that half of Hispanics and half of African Americans entering high school do not graduate with their class. By the 12th grade, U.S. students in math and science score near the bottom of all industrialized nations. Many parents fear their children won't have the same opportunities they had. That is unacceptable in a country as great as ours. In many schools, particularly where people are struggling the hardest, the situation is dire, and I believe poses the civil rights challenge of our time. We need to shake up failed school bureaucracies with competition; hold schools accountable for results; strengthen math, science, technology and engineering curriculums; empower parents with choice; remove barriers to qualified instructors, attract and reward superior teachers, and have a fair but sure process to weed out incompetents."

That's sure to ruffle the feathers of Barack Obama's camp, which has tried to carve out its challenge to teachers' unions as a symbol of the Illinois Democrat's independence from party orthodoxy. But aside from the substance of who has a better plan, McCain's political instincts in his Tuesday speech are spot-on.

When the Huffington Post was reporting last week's story about the potential impact of Spanish-language media ad buys in this election, Latino rights activist Cecilia Muñoz told us that "immigration is never the number one issue" for Latino voters. Instead, she said, "the big issue is always education," citing the 40 percent dropout rate among Latino students. "And when the economy goes south," Muñoz noted, "Latinos are typically the first ones to lose their jobs and the last ones to be rehired."

So chalk one up for the newly shook-up McCain political team. It looks like they got one of their messages straight.

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