- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 22, 2015

DES MOINES, Iowa — As GOP presidential hopefuls descend on Iowa this weekend, immigrant rights advocates have a warning for them: Stay away from Rep. Steve King if you want to have a chance at winning Hispanic votes.

Eager to recharge the immigration issue that they believe helped doom 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney, illegal immigrants who are here under President Obama’s deportation amnesty said they’ll dog the next batch of potential 2016 candidates demanding to know whether they’ll keep or cancel the amnesties that could apply to as many as 5 million migrants by the time Mr. Obama leaves office.

And they’ll challenge the candidates to repudiate Mr. King, the Iowa Republican who is hosting upwards of a dozen potential candidates at a forum on Saturday, which is seen as the unofficial kickoff to the next presidential campaign.

“If the GOP wants to win [in] 2016, then they are going to have to make sure that they stay as much as possible away from Steve King as they can,” said Erika Andiola, one of the so-called Dreamers who is here under Mr. Obama’s 2012 amnesty for illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. by their parents.

Ms. Andiola and others said that the GOP should have learned from the 2012 election, when Mr. Romney lost the Latino vote by a 44 percent margin after opposing legalization efforts and embracing a “self-deportation” that turned off Latino voters.

Iowa hosts the first-in-the-nation caucuses, and interest groups of all stripes use it to try to get candidates to focus on their issues. A decade ago, conservatives came to Iowa to urge GOP primary voters to ask the candidates about stiffening immigration enforcement, helping catapult the issue into a major battle line for Republicans.

The Dreamers are trying to use Iowa to reverse that, arguing that the politics have shifted, and voters now want to see illegal immigrants legalized.

The immigration rights activists ran an ad in the state’s largest newspaper on Thursday calling on 2016 presidential candidates to support “immigration reform” and pointed to a 2013 Des Moines Register poll that found that “77 percent of Iowans support immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship.”

Monica Reyes, co-founder of DREAM Iowa, said that there will be repercussions for those who stand with Mr. King in trying to reverse Mr. Obama’s executive actions.

“We will stand up for our communities, and we will try to protect what we earned and what we worked hard to get,” Ms. Reyes said. “So if they want the Latino vote, if they want immigration allies, they need to change their stances. They need to keep away from Steve King.”

Mr. King, who has led opposition to Mr. Obama’s amnesty policies, stirred up more controversy this week when he described a Dreamer who sat with first lady Michelle Obama at the State of the Union address as a “deportable.”

Some political observers, though, say associating with Mr. King could be a benefit in the presidential primary.

“For those who want to attract more Hispanic voters in 2016, Steve King is a risk because of his high visibility on the issue,” said Steffen Schmidt, political science professor at Iowa State University. “On the other hand, a very large majority of Republican caucus and primary voters are on board with King, so it will probably help them on caucus night and in primaries in most of the red states.”

Indeed, Mr. King is immensely popular in the 4th Congressional District in northwest Iowa, the most conservative area in the state, and cruised to re-election in November.

He is also beloved by grass-roots conservatives and tea partyers outside the state, who applaud his repeated clashes with GOP leaders.

Mr. King’s political pull will be on full display at Saturday’s summit.

The conservative confab, co-hosted by Citizens United, is sold out, and Republicans say it will give possible 2016 presidential contenders an early chance to leave a positive impression with die-hard activists.

“It is a great opportunity for Iowans to kind of get their initial feelings for some of the candidates, and it is also great for the elected officials to get a few [impressions] for how Iowans are receiving them,” said Judy Davidson, chair of the Scott County Iowa GOP.

The speakers include: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie; Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker; ex-Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, ex-Texas Gov. Rick Perry; Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas; former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania; famed neurosurgeon Ben Carson; John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the party’s 2008 vice presidential candidate, and New York real estate mogul Donald Trump also are set to attend.

Some potential candidates, though, took a pass on attending, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida — all three of whom have signaled that they are open to the idea of legalizing illegal immigrants in some fashion.

Mr. Bush said he had a scheduling conflict but appreciated the invitation.

A Paul spokesman said the Senator had “a previous commitment,” and a Rubio spokesman said the Florida Republican is attending an annual political action committee retreat in Miami.

Earlier this week, Mr. Rubio refused to directly weigh in on Mr. King’s controversial remarks about Mrs. Obama’s guest, but did tell reporters at a breakfast sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor that the comments underscore the tricky nature of the immigration debate.

“We have a right to have immigration laws that limit and restrict who and how many people can come into this country, and if you are in violation of those laws, you should not be claiming that you have some sort of right to have the law ignored,” he said.

“On the flip side of it, we have to always remind ourselves that we are talking about human beings with hopes and dreams and families, and there are human stories behind all this,” he said.

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