TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – GOP presidential candidates may want to temper the hard-line stance toward immigration reform embraced by the far right if they want to make it to the top of the ticket next year, according to a recent poll touted by a variety of current and former Hispanic elected officials from Miami.
A recent survey of voters in the early primary and caucus states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina found that, at most, one in five GOP voters supported deportation of undocumented immigrants.
Support for the issue drops even more among likely general-election voters in 10 key battleground states, including Florida, according to the poll conducted by Burning Glass Consulting and The Partnership for a New American Economy, a bipartisan group of business leaders and mayors who support immigration reform.
Nearly 75 percent of the voters in those 10 states told the pollsters that undocumented immigrants should be able to get legal status or citizenship.
“Support for some type of legal status for the undocumented is a winning issue in the general,” said Rudy Fernandez, who served in the White House as a special assistant to former President George W. Bush and represented the partnership on the Thursday phone call with reporters. “You may cater to folks on the far-right (with a hard-line stance) … but you lose folks in the general election.”
Florida’s two homegrown presidential wannabes — former Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio — have at times seemed to offer changing views on the emotional issue. But both have openly rejected the approach of President Obama, who last year signed executive orders that would have prevented about 5 million undocumented immigrants from being deported.
Republicans need to calm down about immigration if they want to win, advised state Rep. Eric Fresen, R-Miami.
“Anger is not a solution. Xenophobia is not a solution,” Fresen said. “Any normal, logical Republican throughout the country … recognizes that ignoring, yelling at or hating immigration is no more a solution than the current fractured system.”
Republicans need to drop “knee-jerk” support of deportation and embrace a more targeted policy as well as “just welcoming immigration,” Fresen said.
“Jeb Bush … speaks of this,” he said.
Ed Moore, co-chairman of the Florida Center Right Coalition, said that positive messages can persuade younger voters, a critical bloc in general elections, who are more turned off by trash talk.
“It’s time for leadership on reform, not demagoguery and negativity,” Moore said.
HARD LINE ON CUBA RELATIONS
While the Hispanic lawmakers endorsed a gentler approach to immigration reform, not so on the issue of Cuba.
On Wednesday, Obama announced that diplomatic relations with the island nation had formally been restored.
In keeping with his previous stance, Rubio took a harsh view of the president’s actions.
“It remains unclear what, if anything, has been achieved since the President’s December 17th announcement in terms of securing the return of U.S. fugitives being harbored in Cuba, settling outstanding legal claims to U.S. citizens for properties confiscated by the regime, and in obtaining the unequivocal right of our diplomats to travel freely throughout Cuba and meet with any dissidents, and most importantly, securing greater political freedoms for the Cuban people,” Rubio said a statement. “I intend to oppose the confirmation of an Ambassador to Cuba until these issues are addressed. It is time for our unilateral concessions to this odious regime to end.”
Bush echoed Rubio’s sentiments.
“The real test of the Obama Administration’s rapprochement with the Castro regime in Cuba is not whether President Obama’s legacy is burnished with dubious diplomatic achievements and photo-ops, but whether improved relations between Havana and Washington advance the cause of human rights and freedom for the Cuban people,” Bush said in a statement. “The ongoing detention of dissidents and continued human rights abuses suggest the Administration’s policy is failing this test.”
The thawing of relations with Cuba gives GOP presidential candidates an opening to make a “full-frontal” attack on Obama, Fresen predicted.
“You’re going to see zero reforms happening to the actual people and the actual citizens of Cuba. I think that’s going to be an opportunity, unfortunately on the backs of misery, for the Republican primary candidates to pounce on,” he said.
The News Service of Florida’s Dara Kam contributed to this report.