SAN DIEGO – Immigration, a hot-button issue that has dominated headlines in Arizona and nationally over recent years, is fading from the public consciousness amid economic turmoil, Arizona Republican Party Chairman Randy Pullen said July 30.
“Because of what’s going on with the recession, although (immigration) is still important, it’s not nearly as important as the recession,” Pullen said in an interview at the Republican National Committee’s annual summer meeting. “Cap and trade is now even a higher issue in Arizona than is immigration, as well as health care.”
Pullen’s comments came the day after a non-partisan analysis shows the number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. has dropped 13.7 percent since the summer of 2007. The analysis, compiled by the Center for Immigration Studies – an organization that advocates legal immigration while working against illegal entry – showed the number of new illegal immigrants has dropped one-third since earlier this decade.
Pullen, an anti-illegal immigration activist before becoming chairman of the state GOP, also said he is backing Sen. John McCain for re-election, despite the fact that he and McCain have had their differences over the immigration issue.
“John McCain said he supports the Republican Party’s platform on immigration. You know, that’s good enough for me, since I wrote it,” Pullen said.
“His basic position is the right position,” Pullen said. “That works for me.”
McCain is running for a fifth term in the Senate in 2010. He has supported comprehensive immigration reform, a position that has angered some in the Republican base. Next year, he probably will face Chris Simcox, founder of the Minuteman border patrol organization, in the Republican primary.
Though Simcox is well-known among anti-immigration advocates, he is unlikely to pose a serious threat to McCain, Pullen said.
Still, Pullen and McCain have not always seen eye to eye.
“The senator and I have had our disagreements, besides immigration also (on) McCain-Feingold,” Pullen said, referring to the landmark campaign finance reform McCain spearheaded along with Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold.
When Pullen first ran for state chairman, many saw McCain’s influence in helping another candidate get nearly enough votes for the win. But Pullen indicated that bygones were bygones.
“Going back to when he was my congressman, I’ve always supported him and endorsed him in every election he’s had, because I have tremendous respect for him,” Pullen said of McCain. “I recognize it’s OK to have disagreements on things, but overall we agree on a heck of a lot more than we disagree.”
Pullen said Arizona’s two Republican senators, McCain and Sen. Jon Kyl, have been helpful to the state GOP, and that he expects McCain to again help with party activities.
“He will be helpful with the party raising money,” Pullen said of the state’s senior senator.
A review of contributions made by both McCain’s and Kyl’s political action committees showed neither had given money to Arizona Republicans.
Kyl’s leadership PAC, called the Senate Majority Fund, gave McCain $5,000, and he has given $35,000 to Republican Senate candidates across the country, along with $15,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
McCain’s PAC, called Country First, has doled out $22,700 to Senate candidates and $5,000 to Congressional candidates, including $2,500 to Iraq war veteran Vaughn Ward, a Republican congressional candidate in Idaho who directed McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign in Nevada.
-Reid Wilson is a staff writer for The Hill in Washington D.C. who also contributes to the Arizona Capitol Times.