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Will Immigration Politics Kill Rick Scott’s Chance at a Win in November?

Rick Scott won the Republican primary for Florida governor last night, edging out party favorite Bill McCollum. Before the primary, the candidates competed for Tea Party voters by jockeying for the hardest line on illegal immigration. Scott called McCollum soft on immigration and pushed him to up his support for Arizona’s controversial SB 1070 immigration law. It worked: Scott won, despite McCollum’s late effort earlier this month to propose Arizona-style immigration legislation for Florida.

But will Scott’s anti-immigration stance cost him the November election? Scott may have trouble winning support from Latino voters because of his support of SB 1070 and harsh immigration legislation in Florida, The Miami Herald reported today:

“While it did in the short term help Scott emerge from the primary, it leaves him in the position of almost being a dead man walking when you look at his favorability rating,” said Fernand Amandi, vice president of Democratic pollster Bendixen & Amandi. “How does Scott tap into any Hispanic support I think is a key question for Florida.”

He and GOP lobbyist Ana Navarro, who dropped her support for Bill McCollum after he backed legislation even tougher than Arizona’s, suggested on a conference call that it was McCollum’s walkback on immigration that at least partly cost him the primary. McCollum won Miami-Dade — but turnout there was below that of the rest of the state, Amandi said.

Polls indicate that immigration is the most important issue to Latino voters in Florida, a key constituency, considering Latinos make up about 20 percent of Florida’s population. Republican candidates already have an uphill battle with Latino voters – in Florida, only 23 percent of Latinos identify as Republicans, compared to the 38 percent who identify as Democrats — but observers argue the Scott-McCollum immigration battle could further hurt the chances of Florida Latinos voting for Republicans candidates. (There is also some indication the ugly primary battle hurt Scott’s chances in general: In a poll released today, 49 percent of likely voters said they view him unfavorably.)

As a point of comparison, Florida Republican senatorial candidate Marco Rubio has been careful to stay out of the fray on illegal immigration. Although he said he supported SB 1070 for Arizona, Rubio has argued states can’t solve illegal immigration problems. Asked by the New York Times yesterday whether he thinks racism impacts the immigration debate, Rubio emphasized the need for the GOP to avoid appearing anti-immigrant:

“I stay away from all of that. Quite frankly, it is too often the position that people run to when they don’t want to have an honest debate on the issues. I don’t deny that there is discrimination in America and there are unhappy people in America, but at the end of the day, I think this issue is much bigger than that. There’s no doubt that we need to be careful about it and that’s why I always tell Republicans we are not the anti-illegal immigration party. We are the pro-legal immigration party.”

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