Rubio (R-Fla.) helped author a comprehensive Senate plan that includes provisions to give undocumented immigrants a chance at citizenship, a high-risk effort that polls indicate has eroded his support among the GOP base.
Cuccinelli, Virginia’s attorney general, championed hard-line immigration policies while rising through the state ranks — but he has awkwardly sought to play down his record in hopes of not alienating Hispanics and Asians who represent a small but growing part of Virginia’s electorate.
Republican leaders have conceded that presidential nominee Mitt Romney damaged his candidacy last fall by promoting “self-deportation,” and some have pushed the party to embrace more liberal policies to woo Hispanics and move the issue off the agenda in future elections.
Cuccinelli isn’t quite doing that, but his appearance with Rubio at the tickets-only fundraiser suggests that he is trying to soften perceptions about his stand on immigration.
It’s been a notable shift for a candidate who vocally opposed President George W. Bush’s 2007 push for immigration reform. Asked recently by reporters whether he supports the Senate bill, Cuccinelli replied that he had not read the legislation and specified only that he does not support amnesty for undocumented immigrants.
“I sure as heck would like to see them resolve this issue in some way in Washington,” he said during a campaign stop in Ashburn. “I’m running for governor. That is a state office.”
Immigration advocates said Cuccinelli, who scrubbed a section on immigration from his campaign Web site in the spring, is not fooling anyone with his vague answers. As a state senator, he sponsored legislation aimed at stripping U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants of their right to citizenship, and as attorney general he has embraced policies that would authorize police to check the immigration status of anyone they stop or arrest.
Cuccinelli also has been accused by Democrats of comparing immigration policy to pest control.
Danny Vargas, an influential Republican businessman from Herndon, said he would like to see Cuccinelli’s views evolve on issues such as state legislation to grant some government benefits, such as in-state tuition to college, to undocumented immigrants brought to the country at a young age by their parents.