(CNN) -- "Pandering." According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, to pander is to: "provide gratification for others' desires." So is that what John McCain and Barack Obama are doing with Hispanic voters?
Sen. John McCain has said the issue of immigration would be a top priority for him as president.
If you follow coverage of their speeches at three Latino events -- the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, the League of United Latin American Citizens and The National Council of La Raza -- the answer would be yes.
Why? Because the two candidates are talking about making immigration reform a priority if they reach the White House, and to make it there, they know the Hispanic vote can have a great impact.
More than 9 million Hispanics are expected to vote on November 4th. They traditionally favor Democrats, but many have supported Republicans in key races. In 2004, for example, 40 percent of the Latino vote went to President Bush -- so going after them makes political sense.
Do Hispanics care about immigration reform? Yes, they do. But it's not the only issue that concerns them. See where the candidates stand on immigration
They, too, pay more than $4 for a gallon of gas, and are worried about the economy, foreclosures, the war in Iraq and access to health care and education. But the debate on immigration has motivated many to apply for citizenship and many others to register to vote.
Hispanics aren't a monolithic group as many seem to believe. Some families go back six or seven generations. Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens by birth. Cubans can stay if they make it to U.S soil. Latinos from all over Latin America come by plane.
Surprisingly, a majority of Latino voters show a deep interest in immigration reform, even though it wouldn't benefit them directly because they are U.S. citizens.
They believe reform would help in a community that shares a common language, even though it has many differences. They aren't naïve and won't be swayed with tall tales.
But to pander has a negative connotation and the concept seems highlighted when it refers to Hispanics, the largest- and fastest-growing minority in the nation.
This electorate is familiar with politicians making promises they don't always keep -- and surely will see that McCain favors border security before immigration reform, a reform he put his name on at great cost.
They are aware of the need to learn English in order to succeed, and not necessarily for every child to learn Spanish as Obama suggested. That could fuel fears about Hispanic influence, and spur some to use that fear to score political points.
In this case, the approach goes in two directions. It can be seen as pandering to a specific group for political gain, but it can also be portrayed as a challenge to Hispanics.
With greater clout comes higher responsibility; it means not only registering to vote, but actually doing it on Election Day, making those numbers count, showing that Latinos are more than a group with great potential.
Is pandering to Hispanics any different from pandering to other groups? Why isn't there a similar outcry when candidates address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on the future of Israel? Or the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People? Isn't that pandering?
Hispanics are coming of political age, and probably face a dilemma. But which is better -- being pandered to, or ignored? And no, it's not a trick question.
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