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Minority report

Campaign 2008 | For Hispanic evangelicals, distrust of the Republican Party on immigration reform translated into support for Barack Obama

It looks like Sen. John McCain doesn't need to worry about the white evangelical vote tonight: According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, some 68 percent of white evangelicals said they would vote for the Republican candidate over Barack Obama.

But there's another group McCain should watch closely: Hispanic evangelicals. The typically conservative voting bloc may be in jeopardy, according to a Wall Street Journal poll. Just 27 percent of Hispanics said they support McCain this week. The low figure is notable: More than 44 percent of Hispanic voters backed President George W. Bush in 2004.

A Faith in Public Life poll found an even sharper drop among Hispanic Protestants: While as many as 63 percent supported Bush in 2004, just 33 percent support McCain this year.

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Why the steep decline? Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC), offers a two-word answer: "immigration reform." Rodriguez believes GOP stridency over immigration reform turned many Hispanics against McCain, even though the senator angered Republicans by sponsoring comprehensive immigration reform that included a path to citizenship for illegal aliens.

"It's the proverbial rock and the hard place," Rodriguez told WORLD. "We like John McCain. We don't like his party."

For some Hispanic evangelicals, distrust of the GOP turned into support for Obama. Wilfredo De Jesus, an NHCLC board member and pastor of 1,000-member, conservative Assemblies of God church in Chicago, openly backs Obama and cites Democratic support for immigration reform. Rodriquez says he knows other prominent Hispanic pastors switching from the GOP to Obama over immigration.

Rodriquez says Obama's position on social issues like abortion and traditional marriage won't allow him to support the Democrat. But he wishes the Republican Party-and white evangelicals-had done more to reach out to Hispanics by embracing a "compassionate, non-amnesty approach to immigration reform."

"The coalition of white and brown and black evangelicals-that would have been very powerful in engaging and mobilizing evangelical citizens for McCain," he said. "But that sort of coalition never emerged, and immigration was the elephant in the room."

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the national political beat and other topics as news editor for WORLD. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.

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