Frustration with the administration's lack of progress on immigration reform isn't helping Obama's cause. But party strategists see Friday's announcement as a renewed opportunity to enhance enthusiasm in key areas.
In Arizona, Democrat Richard Carmona, a Hispanic Senate candidate personally recruited by the president, called Obama's announcement "long overdue," and said he hoped the announcement serves "as a building block toward the day when we finally put the politics aside, solve the problem and reform a broken immigration system."
Carmona hopes to boost Latino turnout to help counterbalance the anticipated strong showing of Republican voters in a state that passed SB 1070, an anti-illegal immigration measure that sparked national protest in 2010. And in the long run, even if Democrats lose Arizona at both the presidential and Senate level this cycle, the party hopes to expand its coalition in the state by recruiting new Hispanic voters as the GOP moves further right on immigration.
Conscious of the oversize voice hard-liners have in GOP primaries, Rep. Jeff Flake, the Republican frontrunner who was once a champion of comprehensive immigration reform said: "There is no way to view the President's announcement on immigration without concluding that it was politically motivated" and urged help with border security. Flake's political life isn't being made any easier by Wil Cardon, who is running to the congressman's right, and used the president's announcement to remind voters of Flake's previous positions.
Assuming national attitudes will be consistent everywhere in broad strokes would be a mistake. Immigration will be less of an issue in Midwestern and Northeastern states that have not witnessed prolonged legislative standoffs over border security measures, reports of border violence and a swift expansion of the Hispanic population. Many voters may even view Obama's decision to tackle the issue as a distraction from the economy. That could embolden Republicans there to take a tougher stance against Obama, and his policy could backfire on Democrats running there.
But Democrats in the West can sense the foundation of a lasting coalition, due to population trends. Republicans would be wise to look to the examples of Govs. Susana Martinez and Brian Sandoval as models for how to govern with a wider umbrella and not cede the Latino vote to the other party in the years to come.
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