Sen. John CornynJohn CornynHouse passes bill to expedite financial disclosures from judges McConnell leaves GOP in dark on debt ceiling Congress's goal in December: Avoid shutdown and default 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.
A Rasmussen poll released Friday found that 56 percent of U.S. voters would oppose a suit against Arizona’s law, which empowers law enforcement to check the identification of suspected illegal immigrants during routine policing activities.
“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 Mason ReidBottom line Voters need to feel the benefit, not just hear the message Schumer-McConnell dial down the debt ceiling drama 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 Hussein ObamaPolitics must accept the reality of multiracial America and disavow racial backlash To empower parents, reinvent schools Senate race in Ohio poses crucial test for Democrats 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 PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP anger with Fauci rises Congress's goal in December: Avoid shutdown and default Cotton swipes at Fauci: 'These bureaucrats think that they are the science' 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 McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellCongress averts shutdown after vaccine mandate fight House sets up Senate shutdown showdown Biden says he doesn't believe a government shutdown will happen MORE (Ky.) for supporting a $700 billion Wall Street bailout, even though Sen. Charles SchumerChuck SchumerProgressive groups urge Schumer to prevent further cuts to T plan Collins says she supports legislation putting Roe v. Wade protections into law Biden should seek some ideological diversity 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 Levy BoxerFirst senator formally endorses Bass in LA mayoral bid Bass receives endorsement from EMILY's List Bass gets mayoral endorsement from former California senator 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.