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Immigration criticism becomes vague in Florida

By ADAM C. SMITH
Published May 27, 2007


Much of the Republican base nationally may be livid about the immigration plan backed by the president and Senate, but GOP presidential contenders navigate different political currents in Florida, where Hispanics are a key piece of the electorate.

John McCain is the only presidential contender supporting that bill, which Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani criticized in vague terms during recent campaign swings through Florida.

In Florida, McCain is most in line with the Republican leadership.

"I'm encouraged by it. I think it's the concept that Sen. Martinez likes, " Gov. Charlie Crist said of the immigration bill, and referring to Florida Sen. Mel Martinez, who is also general chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Told that Rush Limbaugh called the bill the end of the Republican Party, Crist said, "I would respectfully not concur, " and cited his Greek immigrant grandfather in calling diversity "the strength of America."

McCain's take

Arizona Sen. McCain, who has the backing of Florida's Cuban-American members of Congress, will tout his vision for immigration in Miami on June 4. On Friday, he chatted by phone with Florida reporters and suggested his presidential rivals need to put up or shut up because doing nothing on immigration reform is unacceptable.

"If you reject this proposal, then what's your proposal and what have you got that will get the support of the president and a majority of the Senate? It's the easiest thing in the world to say no to things, " McCain said. "My job is to do the hard things."

Political connections

State Republican Party chairman Jim Greer also spoke up for the immigration plan in a Political Connections interview airing today on Bay News 9.

"I think the Republican leadership, working with Democrats in Congress, have found a middle ground that is realistic but also imposes the rule of law through sanctions and other things, " Greer said. "I think quite often people don't understand the entire issue and are unrealistic when they want to simply send everyone back."

The interview airs at 11 a.m. and 6:30 on Bay News 9 and can be seen on Channel 342 (Bay News 9 on demand).

Mitt and Jeb

Jeb Bush has been supportive of the concept of giving illegal immigrants an opportunity to earn citizenship. But in Polk County last week, Romney sought to invoke Bush on immigration - and appeared to mischaracterize Bush's position.

"I deputized, as did Gov. Bush here, my state police to be able to enforce immigration laws, " Romney said in an interview with the Lakeland Ledger.

But Bush approved a small pilot program in 2002, which the governor stressed was limited to a few officers and intended to focus on suspected terrorists, not all illegal immigrants. Bush, in fact, had said he "would have a lot of trepidation if local law enforcement became the immigration cops of the country."

Take this job?

Widely seen as the most vulnerable Democrat in the U.S. House, Tim Mahoney didn't help himself when he was quoted in the Hill newspaper last week. "I think there was a concern that I wasn't happy in Congress. Very candidly, this isn't the greatest job I've had, " said the Palm Beach Gardens businessman trying to get used to the pace of action in Congress. He won the seat previously held by the disgraced Mark Foley.

State GOP chairman Greer said Mahoney can expect to hear a lot about that quote between now and election day and voters will "place a Republican in that office who would care about the job much more than congressman Mahoney."

Mean mailers

Dennis Baxley and Charlie Dean do not have to worry about landing blows as they head toward the June 5 Republican primary in the Senate District 3 race. Stealthy third-party political groups are doing the tough work for them.

A series of attack mailers, funded by organizations with innocuous sounding names such as Conservative Citizens for Justice, have targeted both candidates. The latest, by the Justice group, hit late last week and accused Baxley of trying to change state law to benefit his funeral service business in Ocala.

"It shows a desperate move on the part of those affiliated with the Dean campaign to be hitting below the belt, " Baxley said.

Dean was saying almost the same thing earlier in the week when a group named Floridians for Traditional Values send out a colorful mailer that questioned the Inverness Republican's conservative roots. It noted that as a Democratic candidate in 1996, Dean sued the Republican Party over - what else? - a negative television ad.

Conservative Citizens for Justice, which is backing Dean, is aligned with trial lawyers while Floridians for Traditional Values is linked to Baxley. The groups are known as 527s, a reference to the IRS section that regulates such groups. They must also register in the state as electioneering communication organizations. A 527 can coordinate with a candidate's campaign and can advocate the election or defeat of a candidate as long as it avoids the use of words such as "vote for" or "vote against."

Disney-bound

We may get sick of these presidential candidates bopping around our state every other day.

The early Buzz is a bunch of the '08ers will be back at Disney June 29 and 30 for the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials presidential forums.

Adam C. Smith, Alex Leary and Steve Bousquet contributed to this week's Buzz. For much more breaking political news, check out blogs.tampabay.com/buzz.