Doors Shut as McCain, Obama Campaign Managers Address Hispanics

By Fred Lucas | July 7, 2008 | 8:06 PM EDT

Washington ( - The campaign managers for presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama spoke behind closed doors to more than 100 members of a national Hispanic organization on Wednesday.

According to attendees, McCain's campaign manager, Rick Davis, said his candidate wanted to secure the borders before enacting comprehensive immigration reform that would include a pathway to citizenship for illegal aliens currently in the United States.

Obama's campaign manager, David Plouffe, also called for a pathway to citizenship and a guest worker program but didn't talk about enforcement, attendees told Cybercast News Service.

The forum, part of the three-day National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast Conference held in Washington, D.C., was promoted as recently as Tuesday as open to media coverage. However, on the morning of the event, it was closed to the press.

Marisol Martinez, spokeswoman for Esperanza, which sponsored the prayer breakfast conference, said Wednesday morning: "We are keeping the press out at the campaign managers' request."

However, McCain campaign spokesman Jeff Sardosky told Cybercast News Service the campaign "tried to get this open to the press. Rick Davis, I believe, even said at the event it should be open to the press. The organization preferred that it be closed."

By the afternoon, Martinez amended her statement. She said the event was always supposed to be closed to the press and that it was a mistake when organizers announced it would be open. She said she didn't know whose decision it was to close the event.

"It was a miscommunication between our D.C. office and our office in Philadelphia," Martinez told Cybercast News Service.

The Obama campaign could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Sandra Figueroa, a pastor of education at Life Academy in Allentown, Pa., was happy to hear McCain's campaign manager talk about school choice.

"Education choice is important," Figueroa said. "He supports charter schools, vouchers and choice. He knows the (education) system is broken."

Plouffe told the audience the candidate has laid out his top priorities upon taking office, said Erika Nassar, a conference attendee from Charlotte, N.C.

"In his first 100 days, Obama wants to deal with four main topics: health insurance, the economy, energy and Iraq," Nassar said. "He wants to bring back the troops as soon as possible and believes the Iraqis should solve their own problems, not just rely on the U.S."

Davis told the audience that McCain would support abstinence-only education, said Luis Galdamez, director of abstinence education for La Familia Hispana in Wildomar, Calif.

Davis's statement that the U.S. should secure the borders before enacting other reforms drew a mixed response.

"He said there is not enough public support for comprehensive immigration reform until you get the border patrolled," said Ricardo Moreno, a conference attendee from Los Angeles. "That's not realistic. No border is going to stop immigration."

But the Rev. Walter Contreras of Los Angeles said he understands the politics of McCain's position.

"If you like it or not, the American people want secure borders," Contreras told Cybercast News Service. "We are for securing the border, but we want to do it in a humane way."

Plouffe said Obama supports the North American Free Trade Agreement and free trade overall but is concerned about human rights, said Orlando Crespo of New York, who heads up the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship in the Bronx.

"He is for NAFTA and said free trade is necessary, but he is concerned about worker rights and human rights issues," Crespo said. "That's important to the faith-based community."

But Lillian Riviera of Ponce, Puerto Rico, thought that at a prayer breakfast where attendees represent thousands of Hispanics, "it's disappointing the candidates wouldn't participate themselves."

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