Monday’s ruling was not a pure victory for the law’s advocates. A key provision — allowing local law enforcement officers to ask suspected illegal immigrants for documentation — was upheld.
Still, for Obama, who has endured criticism from Hispanic leaders for a lack of progress on fixing the immigration system and for an aggressive deportation policy, the ruling bolstered his efforts to present himself as a champion for Hispanic voters. Obama had already won praise for directing his administration to sue Arizona, but now he can take credit for blocking many of the provisions viewed as onerous by immigrant advocates.
On the right, the challenge on immigration is more confusing — and the dispute over the Arizona law has exacerbated the tension.
Even the GOP’s biggest Hispanic star, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, has struggled to find the right balance, jousting in Spanish over his past support for the Arizona law with the country’s most important Hispanic newsman in an interview that aired Sunday.
Jorge Ramos, an anchor on Univision, the widely watched Spanish-language network, told the senator that he “took the side of the victimizers who are persecuting Hispanics.” He pressed Rubio on a passage in the senator’s new memoir, “An American Son,” in which he said he would probably have voted for the Arizona law if he were in the state legislature, because of the state’s location on the Mexico border.
Rubio, a potential Romney running mate, disputed Ramos’s characterization, saying the Arizona SB 1070 law was not the right approach for his state or many others.
“I do not believe that the Arizona law is a model,” he said. “I don’t want it in Florida, nor do I believe it is necessary in other states.”
Several GOP strategists said Monday that they doubted the Arizona ruling would affect Romney’s performance with Hispanic voters. But they said Romney was wise to point out — as he did again in his remarks Monday after the ruling — that Obama had pledged as a candidate to make overhauling immigration a priority in his first year but did not get it done.
Even if Romney does not dramatically change his positions, they said, he can improve his standing with some Hispanic voters simply by toning down his rhetoric and casting himself as an earnest bipartisan broker.
Whit Ayers, a Republican pollster who has studied the Hispanic vote, said Romney is not likely to match the “peak performance” of President George W. Bush, who espoused relatively liberal immigration views and in 2004 won about 40 percent of the Hispanic vote.
But, Ayers said, Romney has room to grow.
“It makes a big difference when you’re at 25 percent or 35 percent, especially in Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico,” Ayers said.
Staff writer Philip Rucker in Scottsdale, Ariz., contributed to this report.