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.

Including the NRCC's money, GOP-aligned groups have spent more than $1.1 million -- a large sum but not the millions that some might have expected given the import of the race to Republicans hoping to build momentum heading into the fall. Still, the overall spending on the GOP side is significantly outpacing the spending of Democratic committees and aligned groups.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has spent $767,000 in independent expenditures in support of former congressional staffer Mark Critz (D) and the Alliance for Retired Americans PAC has dropped another $38,000 -- for a combined $805,000 in pro-Democratic spending.

Both sides see the race as a must-win but, in truth, it is a muster-win for Republicans who have to prove they can emerge victorious in seats like this one -- Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) carried it in 2008 -- to make a reasonable case that the majority is in play this fall.

3. A new automated poll in Kentucky shows ophthalmologist Rand Paul leading Secretary of State Trey Grayson by 16 points with just days remaining in their Republican primary fight for the Senate nomination.

Paul, the eldest son of Texas Rep. Ron Paul (R), took 49 percent of the vote to 33 percent for Grayson in the Survey USA poll. (Worth noting: Survey USA conducts automated phone call interviews, a methodology that remains somewhat controversial in the polling community.)

Those numbers are consistent with much -- although not all -- of the other publicly released polling in the race.

A survey done for the Lexington Herald-Leader last week showed Paul up 44 percent to 32 percent over Grayson.

But, Grayson's campaign has released two surveys -- and the American Future Fund, an conservative outside organization based in Iowa has released another -- that shows the race far closer.

Most neutral observers see Paul, who has benefited from the strong backing of the tea party movement nationally, as the favorite. Grayson, while carrying the support of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Rep. Hal Rogers (Ky.), has struggled to find attacks that stick to the frontrunning Paul.

While it has drawn less attention, the Senate Democratic primary may wind up being the far closer race.

The Bluegrass poll showed Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo at 38 percent and state Attorney General Jack Conway at 37 percent. Less than a week ago, Mongiardo held a seven-point edge in the Herald-Leader survey.

ALSO READ: The Post's Amy Gardner on how the Paul-Grayson race is a McConnell proxy war.

4. A week removed from Wisconsin Democratic Rep. David Obey's retirement, Republican candidate Sean Duffy is up with his first TV ad.

In it, Duffy plays up his profile as a father of six, lumberjack sports athlete(!) and prosecutor (no mention of his stint on the "Real World"!?), and focuses on recent news that a Harley Davidson plant may leave the state -- all in a recognizable Wisconsin accent.

"You send me to Washington, I'm going to work to keep our businesses open, to create jobs right here in the great state of Wisconsin," Duffy says in the ad.

The early ad buy serves notice that Duffy is ready for a fight before the other candidates can even get off the ground. Duffy raised more than half a million dollars before Obey bowed out while Democrats have to start from ground zero when it comes to raising money.

Duffy currently faces primary opposition in September from 2008 nominee Dan Mielke, who lost to Obey 61 percent to 39 percent. Democratic leaders have coalesced around state Sen. Julie Lassa as their candidate.

The open seat race has climbed up the GOP's target list, though the district remains Democratic-leaning. It went 56 percent to 42 for President Obama in 2008 but the two previous Democratic presidential nominees carried it by a narrower margin

The Cook Political Report rates the race a toss up while the Rothenberg Political Report sees it as a leaning Democratic seat.

5. Hours before Florida Gov. Charlie Crist submitted paperwork formally changing his party affiliation from Republican to "no party affiliation," a spokesperson for his campaign said that he would not be returning any donations made while the governor was still a Republican -- a reversal from late April, when Crist told MSNBC's Joe Scarborough the morning after his party switch that he'd "probably" give donors their funds back.

Former state House Speaker Marco Rubio (R), whose rise drove Crist from the party, issued a statement Wednesday night accusing the governor of "going back on his word to Floridians." Rubio's campaign will also launch a web video on the issue to today set to the classic tune "Take the money and run" (natch).

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) wrote a letter to Crist stating that he was "disappointed" with his campaign's refusal of donors' refund requests. And the Club for Growth has been pushing Crist to return the funds, in an effort similar to its successful campaign when Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) made his own party switch last year.

Crist isn't legally obligated to return the money -- and with money a major question mark in his fledgling independent candidacy he appears to have made the decision to take the short term public relations rather than run the risk of giving back large chunks of his warchest.

As of the end of March, Crist had $7.6 million cash-on-hand to Rubio's $3.9 million and Rep. Kendrick Meek's (D) $3.7 million.

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