The Fix: Immigration becoming dicey political issue

By Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 13, 2010; 10:34 AM

1. Immigration, thrust into the national consciousness following the passage of an Arizona law deemed by many to be the most restrictive in the country, is emerging as a potentially potent political issue this fall.

In Gallup's survey of the most important problems facing the nation released Wednesday, those naming immigration jumped from two percent in April to 10 percent in May -- a rapid rise that made it the third most commonly cited response.

Not surprisingly, the Gallup data showed that self identified conservatives (12 percent calling it the biggest problem) and Republicans (14 percent) were the most likely to see immigration as a major issue confronting the country.

On the heels of the Gallup data came a national poll from NBC and the Wall Street Journal that suggests that a near-majority of Americans strongly support the Arizona immigration law.

Forty-six percent offered strong support for the measure while 24 percent were strongly opposed -- a major passion disparity that will surely be noticed by strategists in both parties trying to game out how the immigration issue will affect turnout this fall.

(Worth noting: The NBC/WSJ poll question on the Arizona law explained it thusly: "The Arizona law makes it a state crime to be in the U.S. illegally. It requires local and state law enforcement officers to question people about their immigration status if they have reason to suspect a person is in the country illegally, making it a crime for them to lack registration documents.)

While the NBC/WSJ poll would suggest that politicians in swing areas -- particularly culturally conservative House districts -- would be better off backing the Arizona legislation, there remains political peril in doing so among Hispanic voters. Among that group, nearly six in ten strongly oppose the Arizona law and another 12 percent somewhat oppose it.

Given the rapid population growth of Hispanics -- and their expected development into a major political force in coming elections -- voicing support for the Arizona law could cause politicians some long term pains. But, if the NBC/WSJ and Gallup numbers are right, it may be in the service of some short term political gains.

2. With just five days to go in the special House election in Pennsylvania's 12th district, the race has become a cause celebre for numerous conservative groups who are heavily outspending their liberal counterparts.

The investments on the Republicans side range from the tiny ($704 from the Move America Forward Freedom PAC) to the more substantial ($100,000 from the Chamber of Commerce). But one thing is obvious: they all want a piece of the hottest race in town on Tuesday.

According to FEC reports and media accounts, more than half a dozen third-party groups have now weighed in on Republican businessman Tim Burns's behalf, and that doesn't include the $959,000 the National Republican Congressional Committee has spent on the race in independent expenditures.

In addition to the spending by the NRCC and the Chamber, the Eagle Forum PAC has spent $4,500, the National Republican Trust PAC has spent $8,000, Americans for Prosperity has spent $64,000, and former Sen. Norm Coleman's (R-Minn.) American Action Network is spending another $26,000 on a radio ad, according to Federal Election Commission reports filed last night.

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