GOP candidates court Hispanics at Fla. debate
Associated Press
Dec. 10, 2007

Jim Kuhnhenn

CORAL GABLES, Fla. - The Republican presidential candidates sought to embrace Hispanics in a Spanish-language debate Sunday, striving to mark common ground with a growing voter bloc while softening the anti-illegal immigration rhetoric that has marked past encounters.

The candidates avoided the harsh exchanges and name-calling of their most recent debate, while most emphasized the need for border security and an end to illegal immigration.

Only Sen. John McCain warned that harsh immigration rhetoric voiced by some Republicans has driven Hispanics away from the party.

The Arizona senator has stood apart from most of his Republican rivals because he supported creating a path for citizenship for illegal immigrants.

"I think some of the rhetoric that many Hispanics hear about illegal immigration makes some of them believe that we are not in favor of or seek the support of Hispanic citizens in this country," he said after the moderator noted that the percentage of the Hispanic vote for the GOP has dropped from President Bush's win in 2004 to last year's congressional elections.

Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani were especially critical of each other over illegal immigration in a Nov. 28 GOP debate, with Romney accusing Giuliani of running a sanctuary city while he was mayor of New York.

Giuliani shot back, reminding Romney that his landscaping firm had been found to hire illegal workers.

But it was former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee who got better reviews for expressing a more compassionate view toward illegal immigrants.

"Hispanic-Americans have already reached great heights in America. I saw that in my city. They pushed us to be better," Giuliani said.

Still, Giuliani, Huckabee and Romney made it clear they would not favor a special path toward citizenship for the estimated 12 million immigrants in the Unites States illegally. Giuliani stressed the need for a tamper-proof ID card and the need to control the borders.

That prompted a retort from Ron Paul, who said that would lead to a national identification card for all Americans "which I absolutely oppose."