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The Supreme Court, immigration, and Democrats’ chances in Arizona

at 04:28 PM ET, 06/25/2012

Monday’s ruling on Arizona’s controversial immigration law represented a split decision that confused many and was both hailed and lamented by Republicans and Democrats.
Rep. Jeff Flake talks about Mitt Romney's performance following the Arizona Republican Presidential Debate the Mesa Arts Center on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012. (Charlie Leight/The Arizona Republic)

As the two parties wrestle over what it means for national politics, it’s also worth examining the influence (if any) the decision will have on Arizona politics.

Democrats have talked a big game about winning Arizona at the presidential and Senate level, where Sen. Jon Kyl’s (R-Ariz.) retirement has left an open seat this year. Most of that talk holds that the controversy over the Arizona law — also known as “SB1070” — and Obama’s movement on immigration will lead to increased Latino turnout in a 30 percent Hispanic state.

But an equally valid line of argument maintains that the Arizona law, which Republicans have spear-headed, is broadly popular. And as long as the immigration issue is front-and-center, that’s good for the GOP.

As The Fix noted earlier today, nearly six in 10 Americans said they supported the Arizona law in a recent Pew poll, and multiple polls have shown the law getting more and more popular as time goes by.

The numbers are even better for Republicans when you look just at Arizona. A recent NBC News/Marist College poll showed 60 percent of Arizonans disapprove of President Obama’s handling of the immigration issue. In addition, 45 percent of respondents said they would be more likely to vote for someone who supports the state’s immigration law, versus 20 percent who said they would be less likely.

In other words, Latinos may be more apt to turn out and vote because of the immigration controversy, but the motivating effect the controversy has on supporters of that law appears to be even greater. And if this issue is litigated at the presidential level, it’s hard to see how it helps Obama.

At the Senate level, the issue is a little more complicated.

In that race, Democrats’ chances in the general election will be largely determined by what happens in the GOP primary two months from now. And that primary, as it happens, will be largely determined by how the immigration issue plays out.

Frontrunning Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) has struggled in large part because of his more middle-of-the-road past statements on illegal immigration — positions that businessman Wil Cardon (R) has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars hammering away at in TV ads.

The fact is that immigration news of any sort is hardly helpful for Flake, who otherwise has solid conservative bona fides.

“I don’t think it’s a temporary headache for the Flake campaign; I think it’s a migraine,” said Arizona GOP consultant Jason Rose, who has done some work for Cardon.

Early in his campaign Flake has embraced a kind of enforcement-first strategy that harkens back to Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) 2010 primary. In that campaign, McCain, like Flake, was attacked for his past support of comprehensive immigration reform. His solution: get tough. (Think: “Complete the danged fence.”)

Flake seems to be motivated by the increasingly close primary, going on Fox News Channel around noon on Monday to react to the Supreme Court decision on immigration.

“The vast majority of Arizonans (both in the primary and the general) share Jeff Flake’s view that the federal government needs to secure the border before moving ahead with other components of immigration reform,” said Flake spokesman Andrew Wilder, adding that he didn’t expect Democratic candidate Richard Carmona to make a big issue of the immigration law.

If Flake can neutralize the issue like McCain did, he’s likely to survive his primary and be a favorite in the general election against Carmona, the former U.S. surgeon general. If it’s too much for him to overcome, though, a Cardon win would give Democrats new hope of winning what is an uphill Senate battle in a red(dish) state.

 
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