McCain visits Latin America

John McCain's trip here Tuesday was part of an unusual three-day presidential campaign swing to Latin America with a dual message for voters back home. By visiting Colombia and Mexico, McCain wants to emphasize that he has stronger foreign policy credentials than Barack Obama, his Democratic rival. McCain also wants to appeal specifically to Hispanics in the United States by expressing his concern for problems in Latin America.

“Hispanics are a very important voter bloc in some key states,” Republican pollster Neil Newhouse said, citing Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado and Florida. “It's a bloc that Obama didn't score well with against Hillary Clinton” during the Democratic primaries.

President Bush got 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in the 2004 election, according to exit polls. McCain received 28 percent support from Hispanics in a recent poll for NBC News and The Wall Street Journal.

“The visit by Senator McCain demonstrates that we exist and are important for the United States,” said Ricardo Tribin, the president of the Colombian-American Chamber of Commerce in Miami. “It's a magnificent gesture by Senator McCain.”

McCain will highlight his strong support for a free-trade agreement that's stalled in Congress because of Democratic Party opposition. “Free trade is an important issue, not only for Colombia and the United States, but for the economy of the world,” McCain said.

Like most Democrats, Obama opposes the deal because of job losses in the United States linked to international trade and because of violence against union leaders in Colombia.

McCain began broadcasting a Web advertisement Tuesday in which he says, “We must encourage more trade agreements to create more jobs on both sides of the border; that's why I'm behind the Colombian Free Trade Agreement.”

In Cartagena, the Arizona senator also is expected to express his strong support for Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, the United States' closest ally in South America.