Addressing the nation's largest Latino rights group today, Sen. John McCain will accuse Sen. Barack Obama of distorting his record and remind Latino voters that he championed immigration reform legislation that ultimately failed in Congress last year.
McCain and Obama are locked in a fierce battle for Latino voters — a Democratic-leaning minority group that could have considerable influence in key battleground states this November.
Obama leads McCain among Latinos by 30 percentage points, according to a recent Gallup poll, despite heavy support from Latinos for Sen. Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries.
Making his case to the National Council of La Raza today, the Republican presumptive nominee will remind Latino voters that he supported the failed immigration reform legislation in the Senate last year — a move that cost him politically among the conservative base of the Republican Party.
"At a moment of great difficulty in my campaign, when my critics said it would be political suicide for me to do so, I helped author with Senator [Ted] Kennedy comprehensive immigration reform, and fought for its passage not once but twice," McCain said Monday at a conference of the National Council of La Raza in San Diego.
"I cast a lot of hard votes, as did the other Republicans and Democrats who joined our bipartisan effort … I took my lumps for it without complaint. My campaign was written off as a lost cause. I did so not just because I believed it was the right thing to do for Hispanic Americans. It was the right thing to do for all Americans, that's why I did it," McCain said.
During the Republican primary, McCain's rivals and conservative commentators sharply criticized him for the immigration bill, repeatedly reminding voters he co-authored the failed bi-partisan legislation with liberal icon Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass.
Both McCain and Obama supported immigration reform legislation that ultimately failed in Congress in 2007 following an immense pushback from conservative groups and right-leaning Republicans.
In his remarks today, McCain is expected to hit back against Obama's charge in recent appeals to Latino groups that McCain turned his back on comprehensive immigration reform.
"[Obama] suggested in his speeches there and here, that I turned my back on comprehensive reform out of political necessity. I feel I must, as they say, correct the record," McCain said.
McCain accused Obama of voting for amendments that, the Republican argues, killed the Senate's 2007 effort at an immigration overhaul.
"Senator Obama declined to cast some of those tough votes. He voted for and even sponsored amendments that were intended to kill the legislation, amendments that Senator Kennedy and I voted against. I never ask for any special privileges from anyone just for having done the right thing. Doing my duty to my country is its own reward. But I do ask for your trust that when I say, I remain committed to fair, practical and comprehensive immigration reform, I mean it. I think I have earned that trust," McCain said.
Following intense criticism from conservatives for his immigration stance last year, McCain began pushing for "border security first" legislation that advocated securing the border before establishing a path toward citizenship for illegal immigrants — a move that may have alienated many Latino voters.