From CBS News' Andante Higgins:
MIAMI -- In his first bilingual town hall meeting ever, McCain noted the impact of the Hispanic community in American history. "Let's have no doubt about the contribution of Hispanics to our nation's security, it's culture, it's economy and every other way," he said.
Turning to the recent vote in Venezuela, he said it was good news that voters there rejected Chavez's proposed changes to the constitution.
And he also had harsh words for Cuban President Fidel Castro. "I believe there is one important principle that must take place in our relations with Cuba after Fidel Castro meets Carl Marx which I hope is sooner rather than later. And that is that we must have free elections, we must have the prisons emptied, we must have human rights organizations operating in Cuba and free elections before the US gives anymore aid to them…because our fear is that [his brother] Raul will just run into power with our assistance."
The event shifted from his usual town halls at this point as the Q & A portion of the event became bi-lingual. Questions were asked in Spanish while McCain listened to a translation on an earpiece. McCain's team insisted that people ask their questions in Spanish to ensure that McCain got some practice in the type of forum. "We want him to be ready," said Bret O'Donnell of McCain's staff, especially since this town hall took place just before a joint English/Spanish-language debate hosted by Univision.
The questions ranged from Cuban immigration, Hugo Chavez's political influence in the world and U.S. relations with Latin American countries.
Following the event, he took questions from reporters and talked about his chances of securing the Hispanic vote.
"I am from the southwest. We have strong relations with the Hispanic community. I got 70 percent of the Hispanic vote in my last re-reelection. I understand the community and their priorities extremely well and so I think I have a good chance of getting their vote. In a state like Florida, which is going to be an early primary, the Hispanic voter turnout will be very important."
And in light of recent polls that show Hispanic voters drifting back to the Democratic party, he said he wanted to make it clear to Hispanics that Republicans are not anti-Hispanic.
"I'm concerned about the impression that people may have that some Republicans are anti-Hispanic…it's not true. It's not true at all. We are the party we think, of the Hispanics. Small business, less regulation, lower taxes, pro-military, pro-life…and so we've got to re-emphasize that message."