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Advocacy Group, McCain Aide Tout Importance of Latino Voters

Representatives of a leading Hispanic advocacy group joined an aide to presumptive GOP presidential nominee John McCain (R-Ariz.) Wednesday in emphasizing the importance of Latino voters in this fall’s election.

Hispanics are “not a vote either party can take for granted, and not a vote locked in with one party or another,” said Rafael Bejar, the national director of Hispanic outreach for the McCain campaign. “Clearly we saw in the 2004 election, when President Bush was able to get approximately 40 percent of the Latino vote.”

Bejar made his comments in Minneapolis at a luncheon briefing on the Latino electorate sponsored by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.

NALEO is undertaking a campaign known as “Ya es hora,” or “It’s time,” which is encouraging 1.4 million permanent legal residents to apply for citizenship. These individuals will become voters in the future, giving extra political heft to a segment of the population that is already growing.

Census projections suggest that close to one in three Americans will be Hispanic by 2050. Yet while 17 million Latinos are eligible to participate in elections, only 9.2 million do, officials at the event said.

A similar event was held at the Democratic National Convention last week in Denver.

Bejar said that the campaign would be reaching out to Hispanics in battleground states. While immigration is one issue they will touch on, the campaign will also focus its energies on education and the economy.

An official from the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic advocacy group that was not a sponsor of today’s event, also emphasized the importance of Latino voters.

“We expect to make history in November, and we expect to continue our engagement over the course of future years, so that we can have the ability to influence and determine the outcome of so many important issues,” said Janet Murguia, La Raza’s president and CEO.

Bejar added, “Yes, we are Hispanics, but I certainly do not consider myself a minority, and I know that John McCain does not consider the Latino community a minority.”