Hispanic voters are used to being wooed rather unevenly by presidential candidates, most of whom have shown few signs that they get them.Latino voters are citizens, not always immigrants or even recent immigrants. Often their family roots in states like California, Texas and New Mexico predate statehood. These voters don’t need to debate English versus Spanish; many speak both. They are younger, as a group, than non-Hispanic voters, predominantly working class, and they care more than anything about bread and butter issues, like jobs, education and health care.They have less reason to care whether candidates eat tamales — or even peppers, as Sen. Hillary Clinton regularly says she does. And like anyone else, a Latino audience may appreciate a musical selection, but that’s a sideshow, as happened when Sen. Ted Kennedy, in full — if not entirely melodious — tenor, sang “Jalisco, No Te Rajes, (Jalisco, Don’t Give Up)” a mariachi standard, at a Texas rally for Sen. Barack Obama. (In fact, there was a real and strong Kennedy connection for Latinos, but it was to Bobby Kennedy, who was with the farmworker leader and hero Cesar Chavez when he broke his fast in California; voters were reminded of that by descendants of both men in campaign ads).Of the two Democratic campaigners, Senator Clinton’s more policy-oriented stump speeches seem to have hit more of the right notes with Hispanic voters. According to an analysis by the Pew Hispanic Center, the results in California, Texas and New Mexico would have been different had Latinos not voted in such large numbers and for the New York senator. Mrs. Clinton won by carrying the Hispanic vote by a margin of about two-to-one against Sen. Barack Obama in all three states. But she lost among non-Hispanics, by a wide margin, in Texas (55 to 44 percent) and New Mexico (56 to 41 percent), and was tied with Mr. Obama in California (both at 46 percent).What was most amazing was the turnout. Latino voters represented 30 percent of those casting ballots in California. Just four years ago, that number in the primary was 16 percent. The Hispanic numbers were also way up in Texas: 32 percent this month, compared to 24 percent in 2004.And while race may have been an issue with some Hispanic voters, it seems to have been no more of a factor than it has been among non-Hispanic voters. Speculation of a black-Latino rift has not been backed up by a lot of data — and it usually ignores the fact that many Latinos are themselves black.

When the subject of Hispanic voting has come up in the past, skeptics have sometimes challenged whether Hispanics really represent a voting bloc. It’s a fair observation, considering the diversity within the category. Mexican-Americans make up the majority of Latinos in the United States, but there are growing numbers with ties to Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Central and South America.

Beyond language and some elements of their cultures, many Hispanics in America share the experience of being regularly dealt out of opportunity. The Hispanic dropout rate approaches 50 percent in some cities. Nearly one-third of Latinos lack health insurance even when they have jobs. In economic hard times, Latinos, who frequently are paid lower wages, can suffer disproportionately.

What seems clear is that if the campaigns want to sing their way into Hispanic hearts this election year, they need to carry a tune of opportunity.