Arizona Immigration Bill Roils Politics at the State Level

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.