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Georgia senators at center of battle
THE WASHINGTON TIMES The battle for each senator’s vote on immigration is at the hand-to-hand combat level now, with business groups that want the bill and grass-roots activists who oppose it fighting it out through phone calls, radio ads and personal visits at offices back home.
Georgia is the newest fight, with the state’s U.S. senators considered premier prizes: Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, both Republicans who appeared to back the Senate’s immigration bill before distancing themselves in the face of voter opposition. But even as they try to increase the gap, the Bush administration and Georgia businesses are trying to rope them back in, telling them the state’s economy needs the workers.
“The fundamental message we have been talking about with them for a long time is simply a need for workers,” said Wayne Lord, an organizer of Georgia Employers for Immigration Reform and a vice president of government affairs at Pilgrim's Pride Corp., the nation’s largest poultry company. “It gets to pretty much basic things when we simply say we need workers to sustain the economic momentum that has been developed in Georgia across a wide range of industries.”
With the bill’s passage next week in doubt, each vote is critical. Mr. Lord’s group began running ads on talk radio yesterday and will begin print ads today urging the two senators to support the bill.
They are working to counter the backlash the senators heard from Republicans who booed Mr. Chambliss at the party’s state convention last month and from grass-roots activists who have flooded the senators’ offices with calls.
“They have definitely gotten an earful. We have some very active Georgia members,” said Rosemary Jenks, government relations director for NumbersUSA, which is fighting the bill and rallying hundreds of thousands of members across the country to call their senators.
The opponents are expanding their list of targets to include Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, who has become a leading supporter of passing a bill. Television ads and a visit by bill opponents to his Mississippi office are among the plans.
But the White House and business groups are countering. Last week, President Bush told Hispanics to lobby for the bill, while the business groups are engaging in a state-by-state effort.
Tamar Jacoby, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute who is pressing for the bill and helping organize business groups, said the local approach is effective, particularly on an issue so closely tied to the local economy.
“It’s another thing when somebody in your district who you’ve known for 20 years, who’s created jobs, who’s maybe been contributing to your campaign, comes in and says we need to do this,” she said.
Since then, though, they have distanced themselves, including saying last week that Mr. Bush needed to do more to prove he is serious about security. They called for a new emergency-spending bill for border security, but Mr. Bush instead backed putting a funding source into the Senate bill — a move the senators said falls short.
Phil Kent, a Republican activist from Georgia and spokesman for several national groups opposing the bill, said the two senators have heard their voters.
“They’d be making a serious mistake with the electorate in Georgia if they vote for this amnesty bill,” he said, adding that a political action committee has vowed to help either a Republican primary challenger or Democratic general election challenger to Republicans who vote for the bill.
Still, the Bush administration is trying to tie the two senators to the bill.
“Senator Isakson was one of the creators and the strategists behind the whole trigger aspect of this bill and he was instrumental, and we wouldn’t be this far without him,” Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez told reporters last week. “They are both an important part of making this bill what it is, and we have appreciated their leadership.”
By Donald Lambro
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