Immigration Reform: Makes Romney, Breaks McCain

Immigration reform has everyone all riled up, including the 2008 presidential candidates. Mitt Romney is reaping the benefits of his aversion to the proposed Senate immigration legislation, while one of the bill’s “daddies” — Sen. John McCain — has received criticism from both Democrats and Republicans.

Spectators got an early preview during the second Republican presidential primary debate of the Romney/McCain immigration showdown.

“My fear is that McCain-Kennedy would do to immigration what McCain-Feingold has done to campaign and finance and money and politics. And that’s bad” said Romney.

“I have kept a consistent position on right to life. And I haven’t changed my position on even-numbered years or have changed because of the different offices that I may be running for,” quipped McCain, blasting Romney for his inconsistencies on abortion.

This week while on a campaign stop in Oklahoma McCain lashed out again saying, “In the case of Gov. Romney, you know, maybe I should wait a couple of weeks and see if it changes, because it’s changed in less than a year from his position before, and maybe his solution will be to get out his small-varmint gun and drive those Guatemalans off his lawn. I don’t know.”

McCain must be frustrated with Romney’s dramatic increase in new primary polls. For months, Romney languished in the polls at under 10% support, far behind McCain and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani. This week Zogby international polling reported that “Romney, who also shows a small lead in Zogby International’s latest poll in Iowa, leads the GOP field in New Hampshire with 35%, and distances himself from McCain and Giuliani who are tied at 19% support.”

“While Romney has surged ahead 10 points since Zogby’s April poll in New Hampshire, McCain has seen his support decrease from 25%, and Giuliani holds steady at 19% – the same level of support he received in last month’s poll.”

Another poll released by the Des Moines Register in Iowa put Romney in the lead at 30% and SurveyUSA poll in New Hampshire placed Romney ahead at 32% . What explains the sudden surge, after so many months in the cellar? Can it be the immigration flap dragging McCain down?

On Friday May 19, Romney’s exploratory website posted a press release bearing the script and viewing link to his new campaign ad. The press release said that the commercial would be a part of the campaign’s spot rotation beginning that weekend in Iowa and New Hampshire. In the ad Romney talks about immigration reform ideas stating “legal immigration is great. But illegal immigration — that we’ve got to end… And amnesty is not the way to do it.”

Do Iowa and New Hampshire really favor Romney or do they favor his strong stance against amnesty and McCain’s bill?

Democratic presidential candidates have recently committed themselves to tougher immigration reform. On Wednesday Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Joseph Biden both voted to strip the guest worker program from the new bill, an amendment that was rejected 64 to 31.

McCain is possibly the biggest supporter of the convoluted Senate immigration bill and has not been afraid to say so. “We have to show them this is a workable, doable proposal,” said McCain while coming to the defense of his immigration bill ally Sen. Lindsey Graham during a conference call Wednesday. “I think we are moving forward,” he said.

At a fundraiser in Houston McCain suggested that if GOP hopefuls have another proposal that would pass in Congress then “lets hear that.”

McCain’s ACU (American Conservative Union) rating for 2006 was only 65. Can his candidacy withstand what conservatives see as support for amnesty for illegal aliens or will McCain’s stance on immigration reform be a dead end for his campaign?

At this point, polling data do not compel any single conclusion. The most recent New York Times – CBS poll said that while most Americans favored eventual eligibility for citizenship for illegal immigrants, a similar majority also said illegals should only be eligible for citizenship after those who immigrated legally. The problem with the NYT-CBS poll, however, is that the data aren’t split by party. Given the hugely negative reaction to the Senate bill among conservatives, there seems to be no solace for McCain in the NYT-CBS results.