Is Senator John McCain trying to deceive Latino voters by pandering to them in Spanish? According to a new television ad from McCain's Democratic rival, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, the answer is a resounding yes.
In the ad, which begins airing today on nine different Spanish-language television stations in Phoenix and Tucson, members of the Arizona Latino community call out McCain for his duplicitous immigration record.
"We thought we knew where John McCain stood on immigration," the first person featured in the ad says.
“We thought he was on our side," adds the next.
"Then he voted against the DREAM Act."
"And supported SB 1070."
"Now he doesn't even want to talk about immigration reform."
"He'll say anything to get elected."
At the center of the new ad is a Washington Post article published last week after a reporter at the paper noticed significant discrepancies between McCain's English-language and Spanish-language websites.
"The Spanish language site, for instance, lauds him as a member of the Gang of Eight that sought comprehensive immigration reform, and a supporter of a pathway to citizenship for the children of immigrants who came to the country illegally — a group known as the 'Dreamers.' The English-language site makes no mention of either and portrays the senator as a champion of tougher border security," writes the Post's Ed O'Keefe.
According to McCain spokeswoman Lorna Romero, the campaign never intended to make the two websites identical.
“In English and Spanish, John McCain has consistently championed the need for a secure border and immigration reform. The new JohnMcCain.voto is a condensed version of the main English-language website and was never intended to be identical, since it focuses closely on policy issues commonly raised by Spanish-language and bilingual Arizonans, based on the campaign’s internal research. In fact, both the English and Spanish versions begin with the clear message that John McCain has led the efforts in Washington to ensure that the U.S. obtains control of its southwest border and to reform our broken immigration system," Romero wrote in an e-mail.
In one of the more glaring discrepancies, McCain positions himself in Spanish as a "central figure" pushing for bipartisan immigration reform. "[McCain] has brought together at the negotiating table Republicans and Democrats to work on immigration reform that is humane and sensible to the needs of the immigrant community...," the Post's translation reads. "John McCain has always said that one of the most important parts of any legislative package of the broken immigration system should be to provide a pathway to citizenship for those who were brought as children by their parents, with no say in the matter," .
McCain's English-language website, in contrast, highlights his support for securing the U.S.-Mexican border and paints him as the candidate who is tough on immigration: "It is the responsibility of the federal government to ensure that the Arizona-Mexico border is secure and that Arizonans have an immigration system that works in preventing terrorists and others wishing to do us harm from entering the country — while maintaining a robust immigration system that welcomes the best and brightest in the world," his site asserts.
As it is in the presidential election, immigration is a key point of contention in the McCain-Kirkpatrick U.S. Senate race. Earlier this year, Kirkpatrick ran an ad in Spanish showcasing an old McCain commercial in which he says it's time to "build the dang fence." McCain, meanwhile, has worked to paint Kirkpatrick as soft on immigration and unfit to deal with the major national and international challenges that face the country.
Both candidates have touted endorsements from Latino leaders and sought to position themselves as the most Latino-friendly candidate. But a recent Latino Decisions poll found that 65 percent of Latino voters say they're more likely to vote for Ann Kirkpatrick, owing to her support of legislation such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007.
With less than two months until election day, the McCain-Kirkpatrick race — which the Wall Street Journal has deemed one of the nation's most competitive races — appears to be getting tighter, with both campaigns making large ad buys in the Phoenix and Tucson markets.
A spokesman for Kirkpatrick declined to say how much money the campaign spent on this latest ad buy.
As has been widely reported, both candidates are courting the Latino vote, having deemed it a crucial part of their election strategy. Voting records on immigration aside, Kirkpatrick probably has a sizable Donald Trump-shaped advantage. The Republican nominee is not popular with many Latino voters, and hardly a day goes by without Kirkpatrick and her allies pointing out that McCain still says he'll back Trump.
A Univision poll released earlier this week found Latino voters in Arizona favor Kirkpatrick over McCain by 15 percentage points. Hispanics, however, have historically had very low voter turnout, meaning it's unclear how influential this statistic actually is.
In fact, trying to get a sense of who might win come November is difficult, and the polls are apparently no help – a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll has McCain leading Kirkpatrick by 19 percentage points, while an August 26-28 poll from Public Policy Polling has them tied.
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Read a English transcript of Kirkpatrick's new ad here or watch the ad in Spanish below:
**Editor's Note — In an e-mail to New Times, McCain spokeswoman Lorna Romero said the following about the new Kirkpatrick ad: "Trailing in the polls and with no record of accomplishment on the issue of immigration reform, it’s not surprising that Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick has become desperate and is trying to tarnish John McCain’s long and clear history as the leading Republican supporter of reforming our broken immigration system and securing the border.
"John McCain is honored to have the support of so many in Arizona’s Hispanic community, and he’s always worked to advance the priorities of growing Arizona's economy, supporting small businesses, ensuring all children have access to a quality education, protecting our nation from terror threats, and reforming our broken immigration system."