(CNN) – A bipartisan group of senators expressed confidence Monday in their proposal for major immigration reform. But after the last big congressional push failed in 2007, many are asking why it would work this time around.
"Elections. Elections," Republican Sen. John McCain said Monday in a press conference, when CNN's Dana Bash asked what was behind the optimism. "The Republican Party is losing the support of our Hispanic citizens and we realize that there are many issues on which we think we are in agreement with our Hispanic citizens but this is a preeminent issue with those citizens."
President Obama overwhelmingly won the support of Latinos last year, taking 71% compared to 27% for Mitt Romney. The Latino vote for Republicans has also trended down over the last three presidential elections. In 2008, 31% supported McCain, while 44% of the voting bloc turned out for then-President George W. Bush in 2004.
Since Election Day, leading Republicans have taken a noticeably different tune on immigration, with many saying the party needs to tweak its messaging on the issue in order to appeal to a broader base.
Speaking later in the day on CNN's "The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer," McCain argued he's not sure "politics" is completely behind the shift, but "if we continue to polarize the Latino/Hispanic vote, the demographics indicate that our chances for being in the majority are minimal."
Polls taken during the election indicated that the economy–not immigration–was the top issue for Latino voters. A CNN poll conducted a little more than a month before the election showed that 44% of Latino adults rated the economy as their top issue, while immigration policy came in a distant second at 14%. Asked to choose between the economy and immigration, nearly three quarters of Latinos – 74% – said the economy was more important.
With that said, however, more than three-fourths of Latino voters in exit polls said that undocumented immigrants should be offered the chance to apply for legal status.
Along with elections, McCain acknowledged other reasons for the renewed drive on illegal immigration legislation–saying "we can't forever have 11 million people live in the shadows"–but he also predicted a bumpy road ahead.
"Let me emphasize, there will still be fights. There will still be battles. But I am more confident now that I have ever been that we can reach an agreement and have a bill signed by the president," he said on CNN.