By Alexander Bolton - 06/22/10 10:00 AM EDT
Sen. John CornynJohn CornynClinton email headache is about to get worse Overnight Tech: House GOP launches probe into phone, internet subsidies Senators hope for deal soon on mental health bill MORE (R-Texas) and other GOP leaders are coming under pressure from the Republican grass roots to make Arizona’s immigration law a national campaign issue.
GOP and conservative activists see the lawsuit the administration is considering against Arizona’s tough new law as a tool to spike turnout by Republicans and independents at the polls.
“If we’re talking about gaining the Senate or the House, I think the Obama administration lawsuit will pour lighter fluid on the issue and it will burn Democratic candidates,” said Jason Rose, a Republican political consultant based in Arizona.
Republicans also believe the lawsuit, which a White House official on Monday said remained under consideration, could be used as a wedge issue between the president and Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidNearly 400 House bills stuck in Senate limbo Puerto Rico debt relief faces serious challenges in Senate McCain files B amendment to boost defense spending MORE (D-Nev.).
Arizona’s tough new law is popular across the country and in Nevada; a Mason-Dixon poll from earlier this month showed 57 percent of Silver State residents would support a similar measure.
Reid’s opponent, Sharron Angle, has taken a strong stance against illegal immigration and could benefit from party-funded advertising highlighting President Barack ObamaBarack ObamaObama: 'Stop to reflect' on Memorial Day John Bolton slams Obama’s ‘shameful apology tour’ Miss. governor to join lawsuit against Obama transgender policy MORE’s opposition to the Arizona law.
Still, the issue of immigration is a difficult one for Cornyn, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC).
He represents a state with a large and growing Hispanic population, and has treated the subject carefully.
He also represents a party that saw its share of the Hispanic vote tumble in the 2008 presidential race.
Republicans believe any lawsuit against Arizona’s law would be designed by the White House to rally Hispanic voters to its party.
Cornyn has acknowledged the Arizona law is a delicate subject for him.
“It’s easy for the Democrats to demagogue and try to use this as a wedge issue,” he told The New York Times in April. “It’s a very sensitive subject. A third of my constituents in Texas are Hispanic.”
Bay Buchanan, a conservative activist who served as senior adviser to former Rep. Tom Tancredo’s (R-Colo.) presidential campaign, said GOP leaders are afraid of immigration as a political issue.
“The corporations are not in support of this,” said Buchanan, who added that GOP leaders “are very nervous about being painted as racist or anti-Hispanic.”
She said Senate candidates such as Angle and Kentucky Republican Rand PaulRand PaulOvernight Energy: Trump outlines 'America First' energy plan in North Dakota Overnight Regulation: GOP slams new Obama education rules Paul blocks chemical safety bill in Senate MORE, by contrast, have been “excellent” on the issue.
A GOP political consultant who is advising several Senate candidates said the Arizona law could be a big issue in Nevada and Arkansas, which have seen an influx of immigrant labor.
But the consultant, who has urged clients to take a strong stance on immigration, does not expect Cornyn to make the Arizona law a national issue to batter Democrats, for fear of offending Hispanic constituents at home.
“Sen. Cornyn is stuck between a rock and a hard place. He’s being very good about balancing it, but at some point he’ll be called to task and asked, ‘Where are you?’ ” said the consultant, who requested anonymity because Cornyn could influence the hiring decisions of potential clients.
Texas Republicans have battled this month over immigration while crafting the 2010 party platform. The party has debated some tough positions, such as limiting citizenship by birth to babies who have at least one parent with U.S. citizenship.
Some Republicans in Texas, however, worry this could alienate the fastest-growing ethnic bloc of the electorate.
Brian Walsh, a spokesman for the NRSC, downplayed the role of immigration this fall. He said the economy will dominate the midterm elections.
“Ultimately, this election will come down broadly to a referendum on the Democrats’ record in Washington and their failure to create jobs and move the economy forward,” Walsh said.
Cornyn’s position on immigration and the Arizona law won’t necessarily hamstring the NRSC from pushing it as a major campaign issue.
In 2008, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee bashed GOP candidates such as Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellMcConnell: Trump White House will have ‘constraints’ Nearly 400 House bills stuck in Senate limbo McConnell-allied group: We'll back Rubio if he runs for reelection MORE (Ky.) for supporting a $700 billion Wall Street bailout, even though Sen. Charles SchumerCharles SchumerPuerto Rico debt relief faces serious challenges in Senate Overnight Healthcare: House, Senate on collision course over Zika funding Ryan goes all-in on Puerto Rico MORE (N.Y.), the committee’s chairman, also voted for it.
Some GOP strategists believe Cornyn should use Obama’s lawsuit against the Arizona law as a weapon, just as Schumer used the Wall Street bailout against Republicans.
Politicizing immigration could also anger big-business allies Republican leaders are counting on to fund issue advertising in the fall.
But some Republicans argue their leaders should pay more attention to voters angry over illegal immigration.
“The first thing Republicans ought to do is tell their buddies in the Chamber of Commerce that they’re dead wrong,” said Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Immigration Reform Caucus, which supports cracking down on illegal immigration. “The GOP is not going to continue to pander to big businesses that have exploited cheap labor; it’s not sustainable.”
Bilbray’s chief of staff, Steve Danon, said the Arizona law could mobilize independent voters against Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara BoxerDem senators back Interior coal leasing review Trump and Sanders whip up debate buzz Boxer: Sanders appeals to young voters with grandpa effect MORE’s (D-Calif.) reelection campaign.
“In our state, the emerging party is the decline-to-state or swing voters,” said Danon.
“If they want to play this trump card, it will be Boxer’s worst nightmare. It will rally all of the decline-to-state voters,” he said, in reference to the possible Obama administration’s lawsuit.