Political stakes of Gang of Eight's immigration battle are high but disputed

Published: Wednesday, April 24 2013 4:16 p.m. MDT

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., center, speaks as immigration reform legislation as outlined by the Senate's bipartisan "Gang of Eight" that would create a path for the nation's 11 million unauthorized immigrants to apply for U.S. citizenship, Thursday, April 18, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington. From left are, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin of Ill., Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

J. Scott Applewhite, ASSOCIATED PRESS

Whatever the merits of the Gang of Eight's immigration proposal, its politics just got a little more complicated. Politico appears to have let the cat out of the bag Monday by trumpeting the presumed benefits Democrats would gain under the proposal.

“Key swing states that (President Barack) Obama fought tooth and nail to win — like Florida, Colorado and Nevada — would have been comfortably in his column. And the president would have come very close to winning Arizona,” Politico noted.

“Republican Mitt Romney, by contrast, would have lost the national popular vote by 7 percentage points, 53 percent to 46 percent, instead of the 4-point margin he lost by in 2012, and would have struggled even to stay competitive in GOP strongholds like Texas, which he won with 57 percent of the vote.”

Last week Marco Rubio, the leading Republican behind the bill, quickly took issue with the Politico analysis, launching a fact versus myth website.

“Not all 11 million illegal immigrants here today will qualify to become citizens,” Rubio wrote, “and not all of the 11 million illegal immigrants are Hispanic. Historically, many green card holders choose not to become citizens. And, unfortunately, not all eligible voters — regardless of their backgrounds — turn out to vote. Under the immigration legislation, not all illegal immigrants currently in this country will be eligible for temporary status and, as a result, will be subject to deportation.”

Another pushback on the Politico thesis was offered by Jonathan Capehart of The Washington Post, who argued that Republicans have much to gain among Latino voters. Capehart cited survey data that shows that while Republicans claim only 18 percent of Latino voters 54 percent describe themselves as conservative. Thus, he argues that these should be available for GOP recruitment.

This view has been criticized as simplistic and naive by Gary Segura, a pollster at Stanford University. While many Latinos are church-going and family-oriented, they also strongly support a generous welfare state.

But are they conservative? "How much evidence is there to support this contention?" Segura writes in a recent paper. "Somewhere between little or none."

Reading Rubio's assertions carefully, it is noteworthy that he never really says that Republicans can get a significant share of the Latino vote. Instead he emphasizes that not all illegal immigrants are Latino, and that many who benefit from the new immigration policy will not become citizens or, if they do, will not vote.

Rubio took his Politico-is-wrong offensive on a tour of conservative talk shows last week. The talk show tour was less than a rousing success, reported Sean Sullivan of The Washington Post

“(Rush) Limbaugh,” noted Sullivan, “who in a January interview with Rubio seemed warmer to reform, pressed him about securing the border and questioned whether it was politically wise to clear a path for new Hispanic voters, whom data show tend to align more closely with the Democratic Party. And in interviews with four other conservative talkers, Rubio failed to win over the hosts.”

Eric Schulzke writes on national politics for the Deseret News. He can be contacted at eschulzke@desnews.com.

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