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Has the GOP lost Latino voters?

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  • Leaders in the Latino community: GOP out of touch with our views
  • Sen. John McCain's views on immigration have helped him in border states
  • Latino voters say immigration is not the only issue they are concerned about
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From John Zarrella
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- There's a dilemma brewing among Latino voters: If they support Sen. John McCain, long seen as a moderate Republican on immigration reform, they also must deal with his party's tough approach toward the hot button issue.

Latino voters line up to cast their ballots in California's primary February 5.

McCain received a cold reception at the February 7 Conservative Political Action Committee conference in Washington when talking about immigration, even sparking boos from the audience.

"Surely, I have held other positions that have not met with widespread agreement from conservatives. I won't pretend otherwise nor would you permit me to forget it," he shot back.

Unlike his original immigration proposal, which included a path to citizenship, McCain said as president, he would secure the borders first before offering other ways to deal with illegal immigration.

In a border state like Texas, which holds its Republican primary March 4, the large Latino population could help McCain reach the magic number of 1,091 delegates to win the Republican nomination.

But the influential conservative base of the party has taken a hard-line approach toward immigration -- and that is not sitting well with Latinos.

It's not McCain they dislike, it's the party, according to the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez. Therein lies the dilemma.

"Will Latinos be able to look at John McCain and say we're gonna support the party because of you and in spite of your party? That's the question that will be answered November 4," he said.

Rodriguez, a conservative, is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

As president, Rodriguez, of Puerto Rican descent, has ties to 18,000 Latino Evangelical Churches. He is young and powerful. And he is not happy. He calls immigration reform a debacle.

"Who's responsible? The Republican National Party. Who will pay in the 2008 elections? The Republican National Party," Rodriguez said.

Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican Cuban-American from Miami, admits the GOP has turned off many Latino voters.

But Ros-Lehtinen has faith in McCain, and believes he can bring them back.

"In John McCain we have someone who can expand our base. President Bush the father, President Bush the son, did it," she said. "They got a good chunk. President Reagan did as well, a good chunk of the Hispanic vote. But we've lost that now because of that nasty rhetoric."

But Latinos need persuading on a whole range of issues -- and immigration is not always No. 1.

Puerto Rican-born Marytza Sanz, a Democrat, is the founder of Latino Leadership in Orlando, Florida, which registers Latinos to vote.

"I think that it's more than the immigration situation. Right now our community is desperate with the economy," she said.

That may not help McCain, who has been criticized by former GOP presidential rivals for not having enough economic credentials to turn around the nation's sagging economy.

Connie Morales is a U.S. citizen from Colombia who was raised in New York. Morales has always voted Republican, but not this time.

She says the economy, not immigration, turned her away. In fact, she doesn't have much sympathy for illegal immigrants.


"We don't that much because we had a hard time getting here. We have to get in lines. We have to get papers. We have to get visas," she said.

The message from Latino voters to McCain seems to be: We are like other Americans -- one size does not fit all. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

All About Hispanic and Latino IssuesJohn McCainRepublican Party

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