U.S. Senator John McCain announced his new Hispanic voter-outreach effort today at the back of El Mercado De Los Cielos, a small mall-within-a-mall of Latino-owned businesses, restaurants, and kiosks in west Phoenix.
“Unidos con McCain,” or “United with McCain,” is the senator’s latest efforts to garner favor with the growing Latino population in Arizona before next November’s election. But while he claims he's committed and completely genuine, some listening to his speech were extremely skeptical.
McCain, not known for Latino-friendly politics, pulled out all of the bells and whistles, noting his appreciation for Mexican food and applauding the local community for its entrepreneurial spirit.
He rambled off a long list of the Latino community’s contributions to the Arizona and national economies, the population’s disproportionate contribution to the military, and the benefits of being bilingual, all while seizing every possible opportunity to take a jab at President Obama and Democrats — whom Latinos have supported overwhelmingly in past elections.
For example, when asked by a reporter why Latinos should support him, McCain essentially said his voting record should be enough to prove that he has their interests at heart, before quickly turning the discussion to ways he claims “the Democrats have blocked immigration reform.”
“[Any] assertion that Obama has done a lot for Hispanics is not backed by facts,” he concluded, with a sly smile.
He took a few more questions about immigration politics, but answered them all in vague generalities. He laughed at the suggestion that more conservative Republicans in the state would be turned off by his relatively “moderate” stance on border security — moderate at least by GOP standards:
“No one supports a broken border,” he said, “and if someone wants to say that I’m for open borders, I don’t care. They can say pigs fly too, it’s not true.”
McCain dismissed a question about Latinos disproportionately supporting climate change action and whether that might influence his approach to the topic, and instead ripped into Obama for not expanding nuclear energy.
He called the President's announcement this morning that the U.S. would keep more troops in Afghanistan “classic Barack Obama:
“In his usual style, it’s a half-measure, and I guarantee you it will leave our armed men and women less safe.”
He looked like he was trying to contain laughter when asked whether Secretary of State John Kerry might be able to help quell the outbreak of violence in Jerusalem between Palestinians and Israelis.
“Given Kerry’s record, you can put me down as skeptical,” he said. “Kerry has a continuous record of failure.”
McCain cut the question-and-answer session short and spent the next 20 minutes posing for pictures with anyone and everyone around him.
Edwin Nunez, 20, told New Times that he supports McCain because “he’s for the Hispanic people and small business,” but declined to elaborate.
An older woman said she supports McCain’s reelection bid, but really hopes he enters the presidential race.
“I voted for him in 2008, and I’d vote for him again,” she said. But if not McCain, then she’ll probably vote for “Carmen, no Carter — no, what’s his name?”
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“Yeah, him. I like what he has to say…and he has medical knowledge.”
But not everyone in attendance was so set on casting their vote for McCain or so willing to take seriously his promise to advance Latino issues.
“I think it’s kind of a shock,” Lizeth Porraz, 21, told New Times. She’s happy he’s paying attention to Latino issues — adding that he needs to do more for DREAMERs and to take on Sheriff Joe Arpaio — but that she’ll believe his sincerity when she sees him make policy changes. A dozen or so other young men and women standing around her nodded their heads in agreement.
“I mean, it’s great he's pushing this forward, but it’s weird,” she says. “I’ve never heard of McCain doing something for Hispanics.”