Hispanics in military focus of ad

Continuing his bid to attract Hispanic voters in Nevada, Republican presidential candidate John McCain began a new television ad Friday that pays tribute to Hispanics in the military.

The 60-second spot shows McCain speaking during a June 2007 Republican primary debate in New Hampshire, at a time when he was taking considerable heat from his rivals for the nomination for having co-sponsored immigration reform legislation.

“My friends, I want you, the next time you’re in Washington, D.C., to go to the Vietnam War Memorial and look at the names engraved in black granite,” McCain says. “You’ll find a whole lot of Hispanic names.”

He goes on to note that many troops in Iraq and Afghanistan today are Hispanic, including some who are green card holders, not citizens.

“So let’s from time to time remember that these are God’s children,” McCain says. “They must come into the country legally, but they have enriched our culture and our nation, as every generation of immigrants before them.”

The ad does not mention McCain’s position on immigration. After co-sponsoring with Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., the failed bill that many on the right termed “amnesty” because it would have allowed some illegal immigrants eventually to become citizens, McCain seemed to back away from the political hot button. At a later primary debate, he said he would no longer vote for his own reform bill.

Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., said Friday the idea that McCain had abandoned immigration reform was a myth.

“I think the ad highlights what is really the straight story on Senator McCain and immigration,” Martinez said during a conference call with reporters. “Far from running away from the issue during the primary, as is falsely and shamefully claimed, in fact he stood tall.”

Martinez said it was McCain’s Democratic opponent, Barack Obama, who had been hypocritical on the issue. He pointed to Obama’s work on amendments to the reform bill that he termed “poison pills” that, if approved, would have doomed the bill.

“When it counted, when the chips were down, when Senator Kennedy, Senator McCain and I were desperate to round up votes and keep the coalition intact, Senator Obama was destroying it by offering amendments that would have killed it,” Martinez said.

The Obama campaign, however, pointed to a letter Martinez sent to Obama after the bill died, in June 2007, thanking him for “standing firm in the face of extreme pressure.”

On Friday, Martinez also said McCain remains committed to resolving the situation of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants living in the U.S.

“He’s not walked away from dealing with the 12 million. He’s not walked away from the need for comprehensive immigration reform,” Martinez said.

However, in an interview with the Review-Journal in Las Vegas last month, McCain said immigration reform was as “over” as his old bid to ban college sports betting.

“The issue of college betting is over. It’s not going to go anywhere, obviously,” McCain said, adding, “The sports betting thing, that was over years ago. That was a position that I had and it’s done.”

Asked if he had changed his mind, he said, “I’ve faced reality, just like immigration reform. Americans want the borders secured first. It’s over.”

The new McCain television spot is airing in Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado. It comes in addition to two ads McCain has aired on Spanish-language radio in Nevada and New Mexico.

In the first radio ad, McCain pitched bipartisanship and economic concerns. In the second, his roommate from the U.S. Naval Academy, Frank Gamboa, says McCain shares Latino values.

“He has earned the trust of Latinos and has a history of supporting us,” Gamboa says of McCain, according to a translation by the campaign. “This election, it seems to me that the other candidate has just discovered the importance of the Hispanic vote.”

Although the television ad is pitched at Hispanics, it is not airing on Spanish-language television, only on statewide English-language broadcast networks. A source with knowledge of the matter said the McCain campaign had reserved ad time on Spanish-language television in Las Vegas and Reno but pulled the ad from those stations at the last minute.

Obama has not yet matched McCain’s effort to court Hispanic voters. An Obama spokeswoman said the campaign “remains strongly committed to investing in outreach to Hispanic voters, and that will be reflected in all aspects of our campaign moving forward.”

The McCain campaign is planning to announce early next week a group of prominent Nevada Hispanics who support McCain, led by Fernando Romero, a longtime political organizer who is the president of the local group Hispanics in Politics.

Romero, a Democrat who previously worked on the presidential primary campaign of New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, said Obama does not have McCain’s history with the Hispanic community.

“McCain has been there,” he said. “The history of supporting our community is there.”

Contact reporter Molly Ball at mball@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919.

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