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Will Jeff Flake’s Lurch to the Right on Immigration and His Vote Against the DREAM Act Come Back to Haunt Him in 2012?

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The Arizona Senate race between Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and former Surgeon General Richard Carmona (D) has emerged as one of the cycle’s surprise toss-up races.  With analysts recognizing that the state’s rapidly growing Latino voter population could tilt the outcome, immigration has become one of the key flashpoints in the contest.

At issue is Rep. Flake’s lurch to the right on immigration reform.  Flake was once a courageous champion of comprehensive immigration reform and a Republican leader on the issue.  But in 2011 as he geared up to run for the GOP Senate nomination, he explicitly rejected his previous position, saying, “In the past I supported a broad approach to immigration reform….I no longer do.  I’ve been down that road, and it is a dead end.”

This added insult to injury, the injury being his notorious vote against the DREAM Act in 2010.  But yesterday, during a debate between the candidates, Flake attempted to soften his image  with Latino voters by reminding them of his past work towards sensible immigration reform.  But no amount of shape-shifting can change the fact that when presented with an opportunity to vote in support of immigrant youth, Flake turned his back on them and voted no.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice: “We used to admire Rep. Flake’s courage on immigration.  He fought for comprehensive immigration reform that included the DREAM Act and a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S.  But his ambitions seem to have gotten the better of him.  First he votes against the DREAM Act.  Then he disavows his support of comprehensive immigration reform.  And then in the general election race, when faced with a surprising challenger, he tries, at least somewhat, to flop back from his original flip.  At a time when voters are looking for leaders who will lead, Flake’s attempt at an Etch-a-Sketch pleases and fools no one.”

Polling released this week of Latino voters in Arizona, conducted by Latino Decisions for America’s Voice, helps underscore the importance of immigration to the state’s rapidly growing Latino population – and demonstrates how anti-immigrant stances hurt Republican candidates among Latino voters. The polling found that in the presidential race, President Obama enjoys a massive 80%-14% lead over Mitt Romney, while Carmona leads Flake in the Senate race by a 75%-12% margin.  More than two-thirds of Arizona Latinos (68%) said immigration was “the most important issue” or “one of the most important issues” in their voting decisions this year.  Most troubling for Flake, 59% of Latinos in Arizona said that they were “less enthusiastic” about the candidate after hearing about his vote against the DREAM Act in 2010.  After hearing about Richard Carmona’s support for the DREAM Act and the Obama administration’s deferred action policy, 73% of Arizona Latinos felt “more enthusiastic” about Carmona.

Added Sharry, “Rep. Flake had a chance to stay moderate on one issue—immigration—and to strengthen his position for the general election in doing so.  But like Mitt Romney, he made the wrong choice in the primary and it’s coming back to bite him.  Whatever happens in the Senate race this year, Latino voters are changing politics in Arizona, and the Republican Party must rise to the challenge or watch the state turn blue.”

America’s Voice — Harnessing the power of American voices and American values to win common sense immigration reform.