Sen. John McCain, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick go after Latino votes

If putting on a show first would get you an entire voting bloc, then Sen. John McCain would get Latinos to rally behind him in his quest for another senatorial term.

Last week, U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, who’s likely to be the Democratic nominee for Arizona’s U.S. Senate seat – most likely against McCain – went on a blitz, visiting Spanish-language media in the Valley.

The congresswoman visited La Voz, Telemundo, a KNUV (1190) radio show and had dinner with some Latino leaders, including Dreamers, or youngsters whose parents brought them to this country illegally and who’ve been at the center of the immigration debate.

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“We’re reaching out to the Latino community all over the state. An important and growing section in Arizona, there’s no question in my mind that their voices need to be at the table, they wanna be heard, they have a say and a stake in our state going forward,” the three-term Kirkpatrick told La Voz during her for 30-minute visit last week.

It wasn’t much of a show compared to the one the Republican McCain put on in October when his campaign announced “Unidos Con McCain.” The Latino coalition drew criticism from some, including Emily’s List, which blasted McCain and called those Latinos “fake.”

To kickoff his coalition, the senator, who has hired at least one full-time staffer to handle his Spanish-language media and Hispanic outreach, went to Desert Sky Mall in west Phoenix, the shopping hub of immigrants, to shake hands with men and women who sell everything from T-shirts to food.

Some of the high profile Latinos in McCain’s coalition are longtime Valley community development figure Tommy Espinoza and Lea Marquez-Peterson, president of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

To characterize Espinoza and Lea Marquez-Perterson as “fake” is absurd and offensive. Just as it would be offensive to call the leaders backing Kirkpatrick, such as Marcelino Quiñonez and Lydia Guzman, “fake.”  Quiñonez is a member of the governing board of the Roosevelt School District in South Phoenix and Guzman is a longtime Valley activist. These four are respected leaders on their own right who happen to disagree politically.

We know Kirkpatrick supports an immigration reform with a path to citizenship and a guest-worker program “that makes sense,” but admittedly has done little or nothing in the House of Representatives on immigration.

McCain, well, it’s hard to tell. He helped write the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” legislation designed to modernize the visa system and provide a long-wait to citizenship that went nowhere. He says he’s consistent on the issue, though he would rather focus on tougher border security and deport Central American children who came to this country unaccompanied.

McCain may feel vulnerable enough to finally pay attention to Latinos, and Kirkpatrick doesn’t want to leave anything to chance. But it’s going to take more than what these leaders are offering now and a few handshakes to galvanize the estimated half million Hispanics registered to vote in Arizona.

Beyond illegal immigration and border security, McCain and Kirkpatrick will need to articulate a clear message to Latinos.

“Most of their funds go to marketing to older, non-Hispanic white voters,” Lisa Urias, president of Urias Communications, wrote in response to a Facebook post about McCain and Kirkpatrick’s strategy.  “And when they do, are the campaigns strategic and relevant to Latinos?”

Reach her at 602-444-8606 or elvia.diaz@arizonarepublic.com. Follow her @elviadiaz1