A Republican member of the Virginia Senate criticized President Bush for supporting an immigration plan that awards amnesty to millions of illegal aliens, telling supporters he no longer considers Mr. Bush the leader of the Republican Party.
“Dear Fellow Republican: My president is wrong,” state Sen. Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II told supporters in an e-mail. “There’s no other way to say it. … For much of his presidency, President Bush has functioned as the head of the Republican Party. Not any more. … This immigration bill is something of a ‘last straw’ for ordinary Republicans.”
Mr. Cuccinelli, Fairfax County Republican, made the comments as he battles for re-election against Janet Oleszek, a Democrat, in a district that could determine who controls the Virginia Senate next year.
Voters in Mr. Cuccinelli’s 37th District backed Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, in 2005 and U.S. Sen. James H. Webb Jr., also a Democrat, last year.
Now, Democrats are hoping to take control of the General Assembly by picking up 11 seats in the House and four seats in the Senate.
Mrs. Oleszek, who should get a financial boost when Mr. Webb attends her June 14 fundraiser, said she agrees with her opponent, who was trying to separate himself from a president for purely political reasons.
“Ken Cuccinelli is a very bright young man,” said Mrs. Oleszek, a Fairfax County School Board member since 2003. “He probably reads [poll] numbers pretty well.”
Delegate Brian J. Moran of Alexandria, who leads the state Democratic House Caucus, also agreed. “It’s no secret that Bush’s popularity has plummeted in Northern Virginia, and the Republicans are trying to distance themselves.”
Mr. Cuccinelli told The Washington Times that while Mr. Bush is a “good-hearted man,” he had become a political liability to the party.
“Some things that this alleged conservative has done are so outrageous that sometimes it leaves you scratching your head,” he said. “The notion of being for something like amnesty is contrary to the Republican history of being” for individual responsibility and the rule of law.
Shaun Kenney, a spokesman for Virginia Republican Party Chairman Ed Gillespie, said only that Mr. Gillespie “believes both the president and Senator Cuccinelli are both great Republicans” and that the state party “doesn’t take positions on immigration policy.”
Mr. Cuccinelli’s criticism is the latest in a series from conservatives against Mr. Bush and some Republican senators’ attempts to legalize the status of the 12 million to 20 million illegal aliens in the country.
On Saturday, former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, a possible presidential candidate, received a standing ovation from Virginia Republicans in Richmond when he said voters don’t believe Washington politicians when they say they are trying to secure the border.
“You’ve got to secure the border first before you do anything,” he said.
On Monday, The Times reported that recently fired Republican National Committee telephone solicitors said they had seen sharply declining contributions from past donors who told them they were angered by the “pro-amnesty” stance of Mr. Bush and some other Republicans.
Delegate Jeffrey Frederick, Prince William Republican, whose mother is an immigrant from Colombia, called the immigration proposal “crazy” and said Mr. Cuccinelli is smart to separate himself from Mr. Bush.
“The problem is [the president] is still functioning as the head of the Republican Party,” he said. “He is still dragging us down. … You call these guys up on [Capitol Hill], and they will tell you that our party is going down the tubes as long as he is still president.”
Despite the criticism, Mr. Bush has helped the state Republican Party, raising $634,000 at a fundraiser last month in Goochland.