Appearing later before the same audience, Obama accused McCain of walking away from comprehensive immigration reform. The Democratic senator from Illinois said: "We must assert our values and reconcile our principles as a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws. That is a priority I will pursue from my very first day."
The two spoke separately to some 700 Hispanics attending the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials conference. It's the first of three such appearances each is scheduled to make to Hispanic organizations in less than a month, underscoring the importance of the nation's fastest-growing minority group.
Both McCain and Obama were warmly received at NALEO; the crowd gave each standing ovations and cheered loudly. When McCain spoke, the audience shouted down anti-war protesters who interrupted the Republican's speech four times. The audience chanted Obama's name when the Democrat entered later.
A recent AP-Yahoo News poll showed that Obama lead McCain among Hispanics, 47 percent to 22 percent with 26 percent undecided.
McCain, for his part, senses opportunity and is hoping to build on Republicans' recent inroads in this Democratic-trending group.
President Bush captured about 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004, the most ever for a GOP presidential candidate. His Democratic rival John Kerry won 53 percent, down from the 62 percent former Vice President Al Gore got in 2000.