Immigration Issue Starting to Bite Democrats

In my view, a key but under-appreciated ingredient in President Bush’s fall from grace was dissatisfaction among conservatives with his position on immigration. The President has taken a great deal of heat on the issue, and I don’t think there is any doubt that among politicians, Bush has suffered the most for his support of legalization of illegals and a guest worker program.
This is somewhat ironic, in that the positions of the leading Democrats on the issue are the same, or worse. Today, the Washington Times reports that the immigration issue is finally starting to catch up with the Democrats:

In New Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina, the questions about immigration arise repeatedly — and Democratic presidential candidates say they know they are alienating some of their strongest supporters by calling for legalization of illegal aliens.
While some of the top Republican candidates have begun to change their positions to appeal to conservative voters, Democratic candidates remain firmly behind legalization of most illegal aliens. Still, they are almost apologetic as they make their pitches.
“You can be in front of a very, very rabid Democratic crowd, and there will be a lot of people in the room who do not agree with what I just said,” former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina said earlier this month in a speech at the University of New Hampshire as he defended his support for legalization. “The very same people … are strongly against the war and strongly for universal health care. So there is nowhere close to unanimity among Democrats about this issue.”

The problem for the Democrats is that intensity is far greater among opponents of illegal immigration and guest worker programs than among supporters. The Times reports on an Iowa poll; I would guess that results would be similar in other states:

A University of Iowa poll of likely Republican caucus-goers found that 63 percent rated immigration a “very important” issue, compared with 38 percent of likely Democrat caucus-goers.

The problem for the Democrats is that a large majority of those who think immigration is a very important issue are on the other side of the issue from the Democratic candidates. As long as the candidates keep a united front, anti-illegal sentiment may not matter much in the primaries. But come November 2008, if the Republicans nominate a candidate who can plausibly take a more conservative stance on the issue than the Democratic candidate, the issue could cause serious trouble for the Democrats.
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