A Switch in Time? John McCain Takes Harder Line on Illegal Immigration

Arizona Senate candidate J.D. Hayworth held a fundraising barbeque on June 5th at the Arizona State Capitol. The event followed the “Phoenix Rising” rally. Folks were just starting to check in as I was heading out.

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Hayworth is the author of Whatever It Takes: Illegal Immigration, Border Security and the War on Terror (a timely book that gives him a lot of credibility on the issue). Plus, SB 1070’s in the news all the time. Voters in Arizona want action not platitudes. No wonder Senator McCain’s running laughable advertisements. Next to Teddy Kennedy, McCain was the biggest amnesty backer during the 2006 push for comprehensive immigration reform. Now his plug is “complete the danged fence”:

In any case, LAT‘s got a piece on McCain today. It’s looking tight, but he should be okay. See, “The immigration factor in McCain’s reelection fight“:

As a candidate for president, Republican John McCain lamented his party’s tough talk on illegal immigration. “In the long term, if you alienate the Hispanics, you’ll pay a heavy price,” he told a group of Milwaukee businessmen in October 2006.

Back then, some strongly favored walling off the U.S.- Mexico border to address the problem, but not McCain. “I think the fence is least effective,” the Arizona senator said.

Lately, however, McCain has transformed himself from a champion of broad-based reform – who spoke of illegal immigrants as “God’s children,” deserving of love and compassion – into a fierce advocate for the kind of crackdown he once scorned.

In a recent TV ad, McCain blamed illegal immigrants for all manner of problems facing his state: “smuggling, home invasions, murder.” It is time, he said, for Washington to “complete the danged fence.”

Facing his toughest reelection fight in years, McCain’s future may hinge on whether voters see him as honest or opportunistic.

Old allies are dismayed. “Someone who was a visionary … has gone from being very large to very, very small,” said Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.), who worked with McCain and the late Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy on a bipartisan immigration overhaul bill.

Old foes are dismissive. Among them is former Rep. J.D. Hayworth, McCain’s main rival in the August primary and a longtime adversary. “An election-year conversion,” Hayworth said.

The more important verdict, however, rests with voters like Linda Stapley-Williams, 60, a retired high school teacher and GOP activist in Mesa. She wonders: “Did he change his position as he was exposed to new information? Because that can be an admirable thing. Or did he change his opinion because the outcry was so overwhelming and there was no way he was going to get reelected if he didn’t?”

McCain – who holds a comfortable, if not overwhelming, lead in polls – declined to be interviewed. Last month he told the Arizona Republic it was “a political ploy” to say he changed his immigration stance.

RELATED: Background at ABC News, “Fierce Struggle for McCain to Retain Arizona Seat: Sen. McCain in battle for political life in Arizona against conservative former Rep. Hayworth,” and at Arizona Republic, “McCain, Hayworth campaigns battle over lobbyist ties.”

See also Rasmussen in May, “Election 2010: Arizona Republican Primary for Senate: Arizona Senate GOP Primary: McCain 52%, Hayworth 40%.”

Cross-posted from American Power.

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