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Arizona Immigration Bill Roils Politics at the State Level

The law is scheduled to take effect one month before Arizonans go to the polls, ensuring the measure will be a hot topic of conversation during the run-up to the election.

by
Pat Curley

Bio

April 29, 2010 - 12:00 am

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed what the New York Times calls “the nation’s toughest bill on illegal immigration” into law on April 23, 2010. The law requires legal immigrants to carry their immigration documents with them at all times, and authorizes local law enforcement officers to detain people they suspect are in the country illegally. The law is scheduled to take effect one month before Arizonans go to the polls in late August for the primaries, ensuring the measure will be a hot topic of conversation during the run-up to the election.

The major races in Arizona this year include the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican John McCain and the Arizona governorship held by Republican Jan Brewer. Both these sitting officeholders withheld their support for the bill until the last possible moment, with McCain issuing his endorsement on April 19, while Brewer remained silent until she signed the bill into law four days later.

McCain faces a tough primary challenge from radio talk-show host (and former congressman) J.D. Hayworth. Recent polls have shown McCain with only a small lead over Hayworth, and according to Rasmussen Reports, that lead has eroded over time, from 22 percentage points in January to seven points in March, to five points as of April 16. However, given that McCain was already perceived as soft on illegal immigration by many conservatives due to his support for the comprehensive immigration reform bills of 2006 and 2007, Hayworth seems unlikely to gain additional traction over this issue.

Brewer, who stepped up to the governor’s chair when Janet Napolitano was selected to head the Department of Homeland Security in the Obama administration, faces three challengers for the GOP nomination to retain her job. She has been cursed by the anti-incumbent sentiment facing many current officeholders, and remains vulnerable both in the primary and the general election. However, she moved up strongly in the latest Rasmussen poll, from a virtual tie with her competitors in March to an eight-point lead in April. The poll was taken before Brewer signed the immigration bill; logically she should do even better next month. That’s because likely Arizona Republican voters overwhelmingly favor the bill. According to Rasmussen, the bill is supported by 84% of GOP partisans.

The big losers stand to be the Democrats opposing Brewer and McCain or Hayworth. Former Phoenix Mayor and current AZ Attorney General Terry Goddard came within a whisker of winning the governor’s mansion in 1990 when he lost to Fife Symington by 4,300 votes. Running again 20 years later, Goddard has opposed the Arizona immigration bill and in polling this month he has declined sharply against Brewer, still his most likely opponent. Last month he led her by nine percentage points; this month he trails by four. This is not that surprising, as his vocal opposition to the bill runs against even Democratic primary voters, who support the measure by a 51%-43% margin.

The Democratic challenger for McCain’s seat is Tucson businessman and Vice-Mayor Rodney Glassman. While there are currently no polls matching up McCain or Hayworth with Glassman, he’s the latest sacrificial lamb being offered up by the Democrats for this seat, following in the footsteps of Claire Sargent (31% of the vote) in 1992, Ed Ranger (27%) in 1998, and Stuart Starkey (20%) in 2004. Glassman did come out in opposition to the immigration bill — after it was signed — but his signature issue is water management, and while that is an important topic in Arizona, it’s largely off the radar in the political environment of 2010.

Among Arizona’s congressional districts, there are three seats that the Democrats will be hard-pressed to hold. Districts 1, 5, and 8 are held by Ann Kirkpatrick, Harry Mitchell, and Gabrielle Giffords. Kirkpatrick is facing her first reelection , while Mitchell and Giffords are two-termers. All were elected in good years for the Democrats, but all are from districts that the Cook Political Report shows have a Republican partisan voter index. None have endorsed the law, and Giffords has called it “divisive,” but they have avoided supporting the boycott of Arizona called for by AZ-7 Representative Raul Grijalva.

At the statehouse level, the Arizona Republicans control both houses of the state legislature, and that is unlikely to change this fall. The immigration bill passed on a mostly partisan vote count with only one senate Republican voting against the measure.

Pat Curley has lived in Arizona since 1984. He covers politics and other pastimes at Brainster's Blog.
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