Tuesday, January 29, 2008

McCain Gains as Immigration Issue Cools Down

John McCain's controversial relationship to the national immigration debate has been Topic A around here the last couple of days (here and here).

Thus, this morning's Wall Street Journal article, "
McCain Gains as Furor Over Immigration Cools," caught my eye. The piece notes that as tensions over immigration have settled down, McCain's prospects have improved:

Six months ago, when Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign was left for dead at the side of the road to the White House, he seemed to have perished because he was in the wrong place on two important issues: Iraq and immigration.

Today, as Republican voters go to the polls in Florida to determine whether Sen. McCain has become the clear favorite to win the Republican nomination, it is worth considering how things have turned around. On Iraq, the about-face is easy to explain: Things got better on the ground there, and Sen. McCain's support for the war and a new strategy for fighting it now looks more like wisdom than stubbornness.

But what about immigration? There, the answer is more subtle. In fact, immigration is a case study in how changing circumstances can alter the way a hot issue plays in a campaign. Sen. McCain was in trouble because his support for immigration reform, including a guest-worker program and a pathway to legal status for illegal immigrants, appeared out of step with a Republican base that had turned hostile to the immigration overhaul.

Now a combination of factors -- the disappearance of the issue from Washington's legislative agenda; Sen. McCain's own quiet shift in posture; the rise of other concerns -- have helped damp the fires of anger on immigration. Today's vote will show how those forces have worked in Hispanic-heavy Florida, and Sen. McCain's foes may yet choose to turn up the heat on the immigration debate as they try to overtake him. But for now it appears that immigration, while a burning question for some Republicans, isn't the top issue for most of them.
Well, it might not be a top issue for middle-of-the-road GOPers, but don't tell that to Michelle Malkin or Rush Limbaugh.

See also the Florida campaign roundup over at The Caucus, plus Memeorandum.