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Could Jeb Bush's Views On Immigration Cost Him A Presidential Primary?

Miami Herald

Some conservatives say the recent primary loss of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) shows a Republican like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush cannot win a presidential primary because of his views on immigration. Bush and another Florida politician hoping for the presidency are taking very different approaches to the issue.

As the dust settles on Cantor's stunning primary loss, some analysts say he was ousted because he was seen as a Washington insider. Others say Virginia’s open primary allowed Democrats and independents to sabotage his race.

But conservatives, like Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), say it shows their party's base is opposed to comprehensive immigration reform. Says Rep. King, “If you’re going to point to one single issue that this election pivoted on, it was on immigration and it was on amnesty.”

Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.) accuses national Republican leaders of being tone-deaf to everyday Republicans. She says Cantor lost because those leaders do not want to see a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers.

“People want to have a leader who doesn’t support amnesty,” she says, adding, “Symbolically what they saw is that the elites in Washington, D.C., are not listening to real people and are not delivering for real people.”

But former Gov. Jeb Bush has continuously embraced comprehensive immigration reform. He recently came under fire for comments he made about immigrants. At his father’s presidential library he said, “They crossed the border because they have no other means to work to be able to provide for their family. Yes, they broke the law. It’s not a felony. It’s an act of love. It’s a commitment to your family.”

A pathway to citizenship was already included in a bill that passed the Senate last year. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) helped craft that legislation. Now critics accuse Rubio of distancing himself from his own bill – in order to make a run for the White House, possibly against Bush. While Rubio still says reform is needed, he blames President Obama for not creating the environment to win over House Republicans.

Sen. Rubio says, “I’ve been saying now for over a year that getting the vote for immigration reform is going to be impossible until we secure the border, prevent visa overstays, and make employers verify the status of the people they’re hiring.”

But Bush openly chides the conservative wing of the party for their stance on the issue. “There should be a price paid, but it shouldn’t rile people up that people are coming to this country to provide for their families,” he says.

Tea Party conservatives say Cantor's loss shows a potential presidential hopeful with positions like Bush has no chance of winning the party's nomination in 2016.

But that’s not how Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) sees it. Rep. Diaz-Balart says, “Everybody knows what he believes in. Everybody knows, everybody knows that he is a very strong conservative; he was a spectacular governor – I think the best governor, at least in the modern history of Florida.”

Rep. Diaz-Balart says it is refreshing that Bush thinks he could appeal even to voters who disagree with him on immigration. He says, “And, so does that mean that we’re gonna agree with everything that he does? No. Or that he believes in? No. But the thing about Jeb Bush [is] you know what you’re getting, no surprises.”

And while Rep. King doesn't think Bush's positions will resonate with the Republican Party's base, ahead of the first-in-the-nation primary, he does not want to dissuade Bush from campaigning in Iowa.

Rep. King's message to Bush is: “Go through the crucible. See how your ideas sell.”

If Jeb Bush does decide to hop into the 2016 presidential contest, he will have many steep hurdles to overcome. Immigration reform seems like it will be at the top of the list.