GOP chief Martinez hits ’08 can­di­dates’ anti-il­le­gals rhetoric

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Stephen Di­nan

The Repub­li­can Party’s na­tional chair­man scolded his party’s two top pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates last week for their tough stance on il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, even as both men moved to try to one-up each other in call­ing for stricter en­force­ment.

Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida, Pres­i­dent Bush’s hand­picked choice for party chair­man, chided for­mer Mas­sachusetts Gov. Mitt Rom­ney and for­mer New York Mayor Ru­dolph W. Gi­u­liani for op­pos­ing and mis­char­ac­ter­iz­ing the Se­nate im­mi­gra­tion bill Mr. Martinez helped craft.

“It’s about lead­ing on the tough is­sues,” Mr. Martinez told the St. Petersburg Area Cham­ber of Com­merce in com­ments first re­ported in Aug. 15 edi­tions of the St. Petersburg Times. “It was easy to say, ‘This wasn’t good enough, this isn’t right, I don’t agree with Martinez.’ [. . . ] But at the end of the day, what is your an­swer? How would you solve this?”

His crit­i­cism comes as il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion has be­come for Repub­li­can can­di­dates what the Iraq war is for Democrats: a chance to com­pete to take the hard­est line. And just as with the Democrats on Iraq, the im­mi­gra­tion de­bate in­cludes vet­eran law­mak­ers, such as Ari­zona Sen. John McCain, whose ear­lier po­si­tions are com­ing back to haunt him among the party’s base.

Mr. Gi­u­liani was em­phatic last week in declar­ing il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion can be stopped, while Mr. Rom­ney has made his op­po­si­tion to amnesty front and cen­ter in his ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paign.

Two other po­ten­tial Repub­li­can can­di­dates, for­mer Sen. Fred Thompson and for­mer House Speaker Newt Gin­grich, also have stepped up their em­pha­sis on the is­sue. Mr. Thompson penned a Web col­umn call­ing for stricter en­force­ment, and Mr. Gin­grich tossed his pre­pared speech to the Iowa Repub­li­can straw poll over the Aug. 11-12 week­end to in­stead de­liver re­marks call­ing on the pres­i­dent to force through Congress a bill to end sanc­tu­ary cities that pro­tect il­le­gal aliens.

“That’s why I called for an emer­gency ses­sion of Congress — I wanted to jar the sys­tem into think­ing dif­fer­ently,” Mr. Gin­grich said. His re­marks were tied to news that an il­le­gal alien had been ar­rested in con­nec­tion with the ex­e­cu­tion-style killings of three New Jer­sey stu­dents.

Mr. Gin­grich said the out­rage over the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s fail­ure to ad­dress that sit­u­a­tion is tied to out­rage over a bro­ken gov­ern­ment all around, and said vot­ers “have a sense that their gov­ern­ment at all lev­els is fail­ing them so deeply that the most ba­sic level of civ­i­liza­tion is at risk, which is your phys­i­cal safety.”

He said that’s driv­ing the elec­torate, which is in turn driv­ing the po­lit­i­cal de­bate.

Kris W. Kobach, chair­man of Kansas’ Repub­li­can Party and a for­mer con­gres­sional can­di­date, said im­mi­gra­tion is the dom­i­nant do­mes­tic-pol­icy is­sue.

“They are all com­pet­ing to present a con­ser­va­tive de­meanor on the is­sue, but I think they’re do­ing it for dif­fer­ent rea­sons,” Mr. Kobach said. He said Mr. Gi­u­liani is try­ing to “cover over his past record”, while Mr. Rom­ney sees im­mi­gra­tion vot­ers as an at­trac­tive vot­ing bloc. He said Mr. Thompson has the most to gain be­cause of his “fun­da­men­tally con­ser­va­tive” im­mi­gra­tion record.

Can­di­dates heard about im­mi­gra­tion at nearly ev­ery stop on the cam­paign trail in Iowa, and the ques­tions showed an elec­torate familiar with and pas­sion­ate about the is­sue. As a re­sponse, both Mr. Rom­ney and Mr. Gi­u­liani are run­ning broad­cast ads de­tail­ing their get-tough stances.

“You can’t have over 70 town halls in Iowa with­out talk­ing about im­mi­gra­tion, and the gov­er­nor has made clear where he stands,” said Rom­ney spokesman Kevin Mad­den.

The Rom­ney and Gi­u­liani camps also have sparred over who has the worse record. Mr. Rom­ney ac­cused Mr. Gi­u­liani of de­fend­ing and pro­mot­ing New York City’s sanc­tu­ary pol­icy, while the for­mer mayor said Mas­sachusetts al­lowed sev­eral cities to act as sanc­tu­ar­ies for il­le­gal aliens dur­ing Mr. Rom­ney’s gov­er­nor­ship.

Mr. Martinez’s crit­i­cism of the two men was a sting­ing shot from the head of their party.

But it came just two weeks af­ter the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee sided with those who want en­force­ment first, with the RNC pass­ing a res­o­lu­tion call­ing on the gov­ern­ment to use all means nec­es­sary to se­cure the border.

The St. Petersburg Times said Mr. Martinez told au­di­ence mem­bers at the cham­ber of com­merce to try to pin the can­di­dates down on their im­mi­gra­tion stances when Repub­li­cans are in town for a de­bate on Nov. 28.

The Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee did not re­turn a call for com­ment.


Getty Images As­so­ci­ated Press As­so­ci­ated Press

From left, Sen. Mel Martinez, na­tional Repub­li­can Party chair­man, crit­i­cized the party’s lead­ing 2008 pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates, Ru­dolph W. Gi­u­liani and Mitt Rom­ney, for their po­si­tions on the cam­paign­dom­i­nant is­sue of il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion.

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