Immigration played a key role in several primary elections Tuesday, and the candidates left standing are expected to ramp up their outreach to Latino voters heading toward November, immigration experts said today.
The politics of immigration appeared to be front and center in the Republican primary race for Florida governor, where wealthy businessman Rick Scott narrowly beat state Attorney General Bill McCollum, experts told reporters on a conference call.
Scott outflanked McCollum by taking a hard line against illegal immigration, said Ana Navarro, a Florida-based GOP political strategist. McCollum, in turn, introduced a bill requiring police to check the immigration status of suspected illegal immigrants when stopped during a violation, a move that angered the Latino community and even some of his own advisers.
That move likely resulted in fewer Hispanic voters turning out to vote for McCollum, said Fernand Amandi, vice president of Florida-based Bendixen and Associates, a public opinion research firm specializing in Latino issues.
Scott now moves on to face Democrat Alex Sink. Amandi said Scott is "almost a dead man walking" for Hispanic voters and questioned how he would be able to bring Hispanics back into his camp. Navarro said she expects Scott and Sink to both immediately ramp up their outreach to Hispanic voters.
The Hispanic vote is also expected to be key in the race to fill the Senate seat formerly held by Florida Republican Mel Martinez, Navarro said. That battle is between Democratic Rep. Kendrick Meek, Republican-turned-independent Charlie Crist and conservative Republican Marco Rubio.
In Arizona, GOP Sen. John McCain handily defeated a primary challenge from former Rep. J.D. Hayworth. McCain in past years supported comprehensive immigration reform legislation, but he took a hard line on immigration issues in the face of Hayworth's challenge.
It remains to be seen whether McCain will turn back toward the center on immigration issues in his general election against Democrat Rodney Glassman, the immigration experts said.
"One thing that I think has become clear about John McCain... he will say and do whatever he needs to do to stay elected and get the good grace of voters," Amandi said.
But Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, said: "I think Sen. McCain will have a credibility issue if he changes his position again."
Another race in Arizona where a battle of immigration politics is expected to play out this fall is between Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and Republican Jesse Kelly, Amandi said.
In the race for California's governorship, Republican candidate Meg Whitman has adopted what immigration advocates view as a more friendly approach on the issues. But it comes at the cost of changing hard-line positions she took to win her primary race, Vargas said. She is challenging state Attorney General Jerry Brown (D), who supports comprehensive immigration reform.
"As in Florida, in California a statewide candidate cannot really be successful without having a strategy to court the Hispanic vote," Vargas said.
Immigration politics are also expected to play heavily in the race for Colorado's governorship since former GOP Rep. Tom Tancredo entered the fray under the American Constitution Party. Tancredo has been a stalwart opponent of immigration reforms.