U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is wading into the immigration thicket again, less than six years after a titanic battle over the same issue left the Seneca Republican badly bruised and on the losing side.
Like then, Graham is a year away from a re-election campaign. But Graham says the prospect of a serious Senate primary challenge from state Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, or a well-known Republican doesnt scare him, and he thinks the chances of achieving real immigration reforms are better this time.
I am confident very confident that if I help solve this problem in a way that we wont have 20 million illegal immigrants 20 years from now, not only will I get re-elected, I can look back and say I was involved in something that was important, Graham said Tuesday.
Graham is among a bipartisan group of senators, four Democrats and four Republicans, crafting a new plan that would beef-up border security, visa tracking and workplace verification in exchange for providing a path toward citizenship for the countrys 11 million undocumented workers.
President Barack Obama, whose pledge to repair the immigration system helped draw Hispanic voters in November, unveiled his own plan Tuesday in Nevada.
In the new Senate effort, Graham and U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona are the only Republican holdovers from the 2007 initiative that went down in flames after then-Sen. Jim DeMint, a Greenville Republican, branded it amnesty and helped galvanize nationwide opposition among conservative activists.
Graham thinks the political landscape has changed since then, starting with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romneys White House defeat, powered in part by overwhelming support for Obama among Latino voters, and Republican desire to stem the bleeding among the countrys fastest-growing demographic group.
Youll never convince me that the reason our (election) numbers with Hispanics have tanked since 2004 is due to anything other than our rhetoric around trying to fix immigration, Graham said. I care about the party. I care about the country, and I have confidence in the people of South Carolina who expect a guy like me to show up not just when its easy, but when its hard.
Graham acknowledged that the leading role in the new push of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American from Florida and a Tea Party favorite who was endorsed by DeMint, helps provide political cover for him and other Republicans.
Marco Rubio coming into the mix has been good, Graham said. Hes a solid conservative, hes a rising star, hes Hispanic, and he can tell you better than I can the damage being done to the party on this issue.
Left unsaid is the added importance that one of the most powerful foes of immigration reform is no longer the junior senator from Grahams own state. DeMint quit the Senate in January to head the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington.
If you want to measure the extent of political climate change on immigration, you need look no further than Rock Hill, home to Glenn McCall, one of three S.C. members of the Republican National Committee.
McCall was one of five state party leaders appointed by Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus last month to head a major retooling of the Republican Party. McCall said Tuesday that an early task in that mission was participating in a recent conference call with 400 Hispanics from around the country.