12/04/2011 10:39 am ET Updated Dec 04, 2011

John McCain: Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico Could Be 'Up For Grabs' In 2012

WASHINGTON -- Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Sunday that Republicans should tread carefully on the issue of immigration so they do not alienate Latino voters, adding that the party may be able to win in key southwestern states if they can appeal to Latinos.

"I think that the Republican party needs to discuss that issue in as humane a way as possible," he said on CNN's "State of the Union."

McCain acknowledged that the issue of immigration is important to many Latino constituents, which has been borne out by recent polling on the issue. Latino voters largely support some type of path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, according to a November poll from Univision and Latino Decisions.

In the same poll, a majority of voters said they believe Republicans who say the border must be secured before any type of immigration reform can proceed -- as nearly all of the GOP field has said -- are likely trying to delay this reform.

Still, McCain said Republicans may be able to win over Latinos by talking about the need for more border enforcement. McCain repeatedly said during his 2008 presidential campaign that he would secure the border; one of his commercials featured a clip in which he said the government should "complete the danged fence."

If Republicans continue to push border security and "humane" treatment of the undocumented, they could win in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Texas, he said.

"I view the Hispanic vote as up for grabs," he said. "I still believe that most Hispanics agree that we need to secure the border, if for the drugs."

He said he still opposes "amnesty," or paths to citizenship for the undocumented immigrants currently in the country.

"The fact is we do not want to encourage another flood of illegal immigrants by believing that if we can get across our border, they will therefore be home free," he said. "It's a careful balance of addressing this issue, which I think a majority of Hispanics would appreciate."

CORRECTION: A previous version of this post noted that McCain acknowledged the issue of immigration is important to many Latino candidates. He was in fact referring to constituents.