WASHINGTON - Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama sought yesterday to send the same message to a critical constituency: They understand that Hispanics share the same economic concerns as other Americans - and they will help the whole country prosper.
It was the second time in as many weeks the presidential candidates directly appealed to a Hispanic group. Appearances before a third were on tap for next week, underscoring the fierce fight for these voters.
The rivals, to be sure, pressed anew their support for comprehensive immigration reform, a bedrock issue for Hispanics, in separate speeches to the League of United Latin American Citizens. But each candidate was primarily focused on making the case that he - not his opponent - could best lead the country out of economic straits and help the middle class achieve prosperity.
"I believe the role of government is to unleash the creativity, ingenuity, and hard work of the American people, and make it easier to create jobs," Mr. McCain said in a speech that focused heavily on his overall economic proposals. The economy, the Arizona senator said, is about "the aspirations of the American people to build a better life for their families; dreams that begin with a job."
Mr. Obama struck a similar chord later as he praised the Hispanic community for having "big dreams and a big heart." The Illinois senator said the election is about "making sure that we have a government that knows that a problem facing any American is a problem facing all Americans" and "giving all Americans a fair shot at the American dream."
Opportunity and prosperity were poignant messages for the audience, an organization that advocates social and economic policies benefiting Hispanics. The economy, health care, education, and pathways to success are issues that resonate strongly with members of the fastest-growing minority group.
So, both candidates outlined the core tenets of their economic plans and sought to show they best relate to - and can help - voters struggling with gas prices, job layoffs, and home foreclosures.
Mr. McCain made fresh promises to help small businesses prosper, make health care more affordable, improve education, and free the country from its dependence on foreign oil.
The crowd greeted Mr. McCain warmly, applauding at several lines and giving him a respectable send-off. Later, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, one of the nation's most prominent Hispanic politicians, warmed up the crowd for Mr. Obama. It whooped and hollered throughout Mr. Obama's speech.
Mr. Obama, for his part, promised to cut taxes for small-business owners, end tax breaks for companies that "ship jobs overseas," solve the housing crisis, help struggling homeowners, and invest in infrastructure to create new construction jobs.
He also laced his speech with criticism of Mr. McCain's economic plans. He also accused the Republican anew of backing off comprehensive immigration reform, saying Mr. McCain "abandoned his courageous stance" during the primary season.
"For eight long years, we've had a president who made all kinds of promises to Latinos on the campaign trail, but failed to live up to them in the White House, and we can't afford that anymore," Mr. Obama said.
The two candidates are to speak to the National Council of La Raza annual conference in San Diego on Sunday and Monday.
Both are making aggressive plays for this Democratic-leaning group that could tip the balance in battleground states of Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, and elsewhere.
Mr. Obama was blunt about their importance: "This election could well be decided by Latino voters."
A recent AP-Yahoo News poll showed that Mr. Obama leads Mr. McCain among Hispanics, 47 percent to 22 percent with 26 percent undecided.
Still, Mr. Obama doesn't have a lock on Hispanics. During the Democratic primaries, Hispanics preferred Hillary Clinton.