Arizona senator seeks Hispanic voters in re-election bid with 'Unidos con McCain' campaign

In an effort to woo Hispanic voters to his re-election bid, U.S. Sen. John McCain out together a coalition of Latino business leaders to back him up.

At a campaign event this past week in Phoenix's Desert Sky Mall - where he toured through parts of "Mercado de los Cielos," a former warehouse that now houses dozens of small shops owned mostly by Latinos - the five-term senator and 2008 Republican nominee rolled out his coalition called "Unidos con McCain" or "United with McCain."

“This is an example of what entrepreneurship and opportunity is all about,” said McCain, according to KTAR News. “This is what our Arizona economy is all about.”

During his address, the senator suggested that the comments by presidential front-runner Donald Trump and other GOP contenders won’t hurt his re-election with Arizona’s Hispanic population.

"First of all, I do not agree with comments that were made by Mr. Trump, and I said so at the time, and I will continue to strongly disagree with his comments," McCain said, according to The Arizona Republic. "But I also believe that the people of Arizona will make a judgment on my record, which is very long, and my support of the Hispanic community. ... And I'm proud of that record, and I'm proud of the support that I have in the Hispanic community."

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He added, according to KTAR News: "“Hispanic culture, Hispanic food, Hispanic influence into our state has made our state a diverse, and cultural and wonderful state because of that."

The Arizona’s senior senator told the Associated Press in advance of the announcement of his new coalition that these efforts are meant to reach out to the growing body of Latino voters.

"I think it's a very important factor in my re-election campaign from a pure political standpoint. But it's also an important effort for the long-term that can show that Republicans can attract the support of the Hispanic community," McCain said. "And the best way to do that is gain the confidence of the leaders in the Hispanic community."

Members of the coalition include Tommy Espinoza, head of a community development fund, Lea Marquez-Peterson, a businesswoman and president of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and Jose Gonzales, a Phoenix pastor. McCain also named former television news reporter Ana Carolina Pereira as his campaign's outreach director for Hispanics.

"His own party, obviously, knows him, too, so that's why they beat up on him for his position," Espinoza said, according to the Arizona Republic. "But you've got to give the guy credit: He's a leader that's willing to take a hit on issues that he thinks are important."

The senator's push to court the Latino vote stands in stark contrast to his 2010 re-election bid. Facing a primary challenge, he adopted a hard-line stand on immigration just a few years after working with Democrats on a path to citizenship for those in the country illegally.

Since then, he pushed a comprehensive immigration reform plan through the Senate in 2013 that allows a pathway to legalization for the estimated 11 million people in the U.S. illegally. The effort, which stalled in the House, has strong border security and workplace enforcement efforts that he said would have fulfilled his 2010 promise to "complete the danged fence."

McCain said there is a strong conservative element in his party that wants to reach out to the Latino community as he does.

"I know that there are people who may not, but I think all across the Republican Party we are trying to do outreach to the Hispanic community for the reason of demographics alone," McCain told AP. "A larger and larger percentage of the population are Hispanic. They are major contributors to Arizona in every way. So I believe the party of Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan should be doing outreach because that's what our party's supposed to be all about. "

A profligate fundraiser, McCain reported bringing in more than $1 million in the three months ending Sept. 30, ending the period with more than $5 million in the bank.

Republican challenger Kelli Ward also had a respectable three months of fundraising after formally entering the race. The state lawmaker from Lake Havasu City said she brought in more than $525,000. Newcomer Alex Meluskey hasn't announced his fundraising total. Final reports for the July 1-to-Sept. 30 period are expected to be available this week.

If McCain makes it through the primary, he'll likely face Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick of Flagstaff, who announced in May that she would forgo a re-election effort for her 1st District seat to challenge McCain.

Kirkpatrick spokesman D.B. Mitchell said McCain's new effort to woo Hispanics is a game he has played in elections for years.

"He panders to the reckless, anti-immigrant wing of the GOP whenever he's up for re-election, then taps his campaign coffers to pay for good PR in Arizona's Hispanic community," Mitchell said. "But the clock is running out on McCain's cynical game - voters won't be fooled."

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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