The candidates have to talk about immigration if they want immigrant votes. But immigration is considered a political hot potato in English, unlikely to win a candidate any friends. So Obama and McCain have opted to talk about immigration in Spanish.
"Soy Barack Obama y yo apruebo este mensaje."
In this ad, which started running in Colorado in mid-September, the narrator says John McCain was a friend to Latinos during the immigration debate.
"Cuando los hispanos necesitaron un amigo en el congreso durante el debate sobre inmigración, quién salió a defenderlos? John McCain."
It's one of the only positive messages. The Spanish ad wars – even more than the English ad wars – are overwhelmingly negative.
McCain has been a champion of immigrant rights. But critics say he's run away from his own record to win the election. Obama made the point in his ad, which appeared earlier this month in Colorado. The narrator says McCain is manipulating voters about immigration, and then cuts to a news clip in English.
"McCain sigue manipulando y mintiendo sobre el asunto de la inmigración. ‘When asked if he would vote for his own legislation – 'No, I would not.'"
Frank Sharry is the executive director of America's Voice, an immigrant-rights organization. He says McCain is trying to make anti-immigrant Republicans happy in English and make Latinos happy in Spanish.
"It’s hard to say in Spanish in Colorado that you’re for comprehensive reform and Obama’s not and then in North Carolina say I'm against giving anything to undocumented immigrants and my opponent is."
Immigration reform is a litmus test for Latino voters. Angela Kelly directs the Immigration Policy Center. She says no matter what other issues are important to Latinos, they won't vote for a candidate that doesn’t support their community.
"My family like all immigrant families care about what everyone cares about. The economy, the war in iraq, my children’s future, health care – but the threshold issue – the issue that defines whether we’re respected or not - is the issue of immigration."
So if candidates want to get on Latinos' good side, they have to present themselves as pro-immigrant. And they DO want to get on Latinos' good side. Latino political power is skyrocketing. An estimated one million new immigrants have registered to vote. Ten percent of Colorado’s voters are Latino.
Again, Angela Kelly: "The dollars they've invested in Spanish language media shows that they're taking folks seriously who are Latino, who are naturalized immigrants, so I think they’re investing their dollars wisely, because it’s a vote that's gonna matter for years to come."
Madura Wijewardena co-authored a study, commissioned by the Immigration Policy Center, on immigrants' voting power. He says new immigrant voters in battleground states like Colorado could tip the scales.
"Elections have been decided by a handful of people, around 100,000, in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Colorado and other places. A small number of new Americans – tiny in comparison to the Californias and the Floridas of this country – they do have more power."
Observers say that in 2004, Democrat John Kerry underestimated the importance of appealing to Latinos in their own language. He pulled his Spanish-language ads in the southwest – and George Bush won every state in region.