MIAMI — Democratic frontrunners Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama vowed Sunday to crusade for immigration reform if elected, though they didn't promise everything asked of them at the nation's largest gathering of Hispanic community leaders.
Clinton did not demand an end to federal raids on undocumented immigrants. Obama would not guarantee a visit to the immigrant-rich agricultural area of California's Central Valley in between his fundraising trips to Los Angeles.
But their mere presence at the Miami Beach Convention Center - along with their agreement with much of the National Council of La Raza agenda on immigration, health care and education - gratified an audience poised to play a pivotal role in the 2008 campaign.
``I'm proud to have not one, but two frontrunners in the race for president of the United States,'' said Janet Murguia, La Raza's president. ``I think it says a lot about our power and our energy to shape this country.''
Democrat John Edwards was also invited but didn't make it. The three leading Republican candidates - Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and John McCain - did not attend. They also turned down invitations to the National Association of Latino Elected Officials conference in Orlando last month, though all of the major Democratic candidates were there.
``It's a shame,'' said Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami. ``It's because immigration became such a controversial topic. But it's not the only topic Hispanics are interested in. ... Come and speak to us about the issues you care about.''
Clinton and Obama sounded similar in decrying the inflammatory debate surrounding the failed legislation that would have allowed millions of illegal immigrants to eventually seek citizenship. They also echoed each other's calls for universal health care and tuition aid for the children of unauthorized immigrants.
Clinton enjoyed somewhat of a home field advantage. Murguia worked in her husband's presidential administration, and La Raza's past president has endorsed her campaign. Clinton could also point to one of her most prominent Hispanic supporters in the audience, Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey.
Obama's campaign put out a list of Florida endorsements Friday that included few big names or prominent Hispanic officials. What he lacked in support from the political establishment, his campaign tried to make up for in grassroots activism, dispatching dozens of young volunteers to hand out stickers and placards at the conference.
Obama also had a unique message: that the civil rights movements led by an African-American, Martin Luther King Jr., and a Mexican-American, Cesar Chavez, were inextricably linked. Both African-American and Hispanic children suffer disproportionately without health insurance and high-achieving public schools.
``Our separate struggles are really one struggle,'' Obama said, echoing King. ``An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.''
Clinton, probably the most famous working mother in the world, talked about how she had tried to provide the best life for her own daughter.
``Why can't we do that for everyone's child?'' she asked. ``And why can't we do a better job of creating those opportunities?''
Clinton looked tired, perhaps because she and other senators were up all night Tuesday trying to secure support for a bill withdrawing troops from Iraq. Some people in the audience leapt to their feet when Obama called for the end of the war.
Several states with large Hispanic populations - including Florida, California and Nevada - will host some of the earliest presidential primaries next year.
``We have to raise our voice and vote, so we can be part of the solution,'' said Margaret Delmont Sanchez, vice president of Hispanic Unity of Florida. ``That's why we're here today. We want to hear what these candidates have to offer.''