NYT's Nagourney Finds Yet More Reasons for GOP to Worry in 2010, This Time in California

Adam's alchemy: Former New York Times chief political correspondent Adam Nagourney has a gift for turning winning conservative issues into inconvenient political losers for Republicans. Nagourney is now based in California, but he packed his old biased habits, which were on display in Saturday's Times story "In California, Immigration Debate Defines the G.O.P. Race for Governor."

Nagourney argued that Arizona's strict new immigration enforcement law has "hijacked this contest" and "stirred worry" that the Republican nominee will be weakened against Democrat and former California Gov. Jerry Brown. (Yes, that Jerry Brown.) He portrayed being on the strong side of a popular issue as a stumbling block for California's G.O.P. gubernatorial candidates:

For almost a year, Ms. Whitman, the former chief executive of eBay, has campaigned on three issues: jobs, education and government spending. But as her contest for the Republican nomination for governor against Steve Poizner, the state insurance commissioner, enters its final days, she has found herself drawn into a loud and caustic argument over immigration policy. "It is the only issue," said Stuart Stevens, Mr. Poizner's chief campaign consultant.

The primary here on Tuesday will be the highest-stakes electoral contest since Arizona approved a tough immigration law, and that has allowed Mr. Poizner to reshape the campaign, focusing a series of stark attacks on Ms. Whitman. The extent to which immigration has, in the view of many Republicans, hijacked this contest has stirred worry that the nominee chosen next week will be weakened in the general election against Jerry Brown, a Democrat and former governor.

"There's a difference between talking about a problem and trying to exploit the problem as a wedge issue to try to get scared white voters," said Allan Hoffenblum, a Republican analyst here. "I'm not speaking as a lone wolf on this in the Republican Party. It's concerning a lot of us."

(Hoffenblum has been telling this story to other California media outlets.)

Hispanics are becoming increasingly influential in California politics. One in six voters this November is expected to be Hispanic -- a proportion that is likely to grow in coming years -- and Southern California has been at the forefront of efforts to boycott Arizona for enacting tough anti-immigrant legislation in late April.

In many ways, California's primary race offers a worrisome preview of what many Republicans say are the political perils for the party nationally in being identified with tough immigration policies. Mr. Poizner has enthusiastically endorsed such policies in his campaign. His series of stark television advertisements portraying Ms. Whitman as an advocate of permissive immigration began three weeks ago.

Oddly enough, polls don't show too many "political perils" of being identified with "tough immigration policies" like the one passed in Arizona. In fact, the measure has proven strongly popular.

The emphasis on immigration is striking in a state that is reeling from the economic downturn and saddled with what officials in both parties view as a dysfunctional government. At 12.5 percent, the unemployment rate here is far above the national average. The state has been hit hard by the foreclosure crisis, its public education system is a shambles, and disapproval of the Legislature and of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican barred by term limits from seeking re-election, are at near-record highs. The election is playing out against the backdrop of the latest battle in Sacramento over proposed cuts in spending to balance the budget.

Is Nagourney suggesting immigration has nothing to do with the unemployment rate? Even some liberals will admit that illegal immigrants willing to work cheaper drive up unemployment among citizens.

Nagourney even saw opposition to Obama (a pretty basic Republican position, when you think about it) as somehow being a hindrance to the party's success in November:

Even without immigration, candidates this primary season face a politically daunting task in trying to navigate an increasingly conservative Republican base and emerge as a viable candidate in the general election. Mark Baldassare, president and chief executive of the Public Policy Institute of California, a policy study and polling group, said that 75 percent of Republicans statewide disapproved of President Obama in a poll earlier last month, compared with 39 percent of all registered voters in California.

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