New York, Oct 23 : Republican presidential nominee John McCain seemed to be in a good position to win support among Hispanic voters at the start of his campaign after he had sponsored legislation for comprehensive immigration overhaul in Congress, and made a point of speaking warmly about the contributions of immigrants.
But less than two weeks before Election Day on November 4, those advantages appear to have evaporated. Recent Gallup polls show McCain running far behind his rival Barack Obama among Hispanic voters nationwide, only 26 percent of whom favor the Republican.
The possibility that McCain can duplicate George W. Bush's performance among Latinos in 2004, when Republicans won 44 percent of the vote, now seems remote, the New York Times reported.
Both candidates are spending heavily on Spanish-language advertising, and continue to schedule campaign events to focus on the fast-growing Hispanic vote.
Last month, McCain held a town-hall-style meeting at a Puerto Rican community center in central Florida; a few days later, Obama came to this heavily Hispanic city of 9,600 people for a rally at a plaza that dates to Spanish colonial times.
In an echo of his overall slide in the polls, some of the issues that have hampered McCain's candidacy turn out to have had an even greater impact on the Hispanic population.
Latinos cite the crisis in the economy as their biggest concern, trumping immigration and the social conservatism that Republicans thought would help expand McCain's appeal among religious, family-oriented Hispanic voters.
And if Republicans were counting on tensions between Blacks and Latinos, now the nation's largest minority, driving Hispanic voters away from Obama, that also has largely failed to materialize.
Hispanics account for three of every eight voters in New Mexico, where the vote has been extremely tight in the last two presidential elections.
Al Gore won this state by just 366 votes as the Democratic nominee in 2000, and in 2004, President Bush triumphed by fewer than 6,000.
In Colorado and Nevada, Latinos account for at least 20 percent of the population and 12 percent of registered voters. Together, the three Southwestern battleground states have 19 electoral votes that are growing in importance for McCain as his electoral map shrinks.
But events seem to be working in Obama's favor. Contrary to what non-Hispanic politicians often assume, immigration does not rank as high on the list of Hispanic concerns as the economy, education and health care.
Instead, surveys show that Latinos see immigration as a tool useful in identifying who is friend and who is foe. That may have complicated McCain's task despite his sponsorship of the immigration overhaul legislation, he is burdened by nativist elements within the Republican Party.