Tuesday, January 20, 2004

New polls show that President Bush’s proposal to grant legal status to millions of illegal aliens is widely unpopular, even among his most loyal supporters.

Opposition to the plan runs so deeply that the Christian Coalition of Georgia, a conservative pro-family organization, has dedicated a panel discussion for later this month that will focus on the pitfalls of Mr. Bush’s plan.

“That’s interesting,” said Phil Kent, a political consultant who hosted a Bush-Cheney fund-raiser in Atlanta earlier this month. “Who knew that the Christian Coalition was even interested in immigration?”

An ABC News/Washington Post poll released Monday showed that 56 percent of respondents disapproved of Mr. Bush’s proposal to allow millions of illegal immigrants to gain legal status and keep their jobs. Thirty-four percent approved.

Republicans were equally skeptical of the president’s immigration plan, with 52 percent expressing disapproval and 34 percent warm to the idea.

A New York Times poll released Sunday echoed those results. Two-thirds of those polled said they disliked Mr. Bush’s plan, and a plurality of those asked said immigration should be decreased, not increased.

A Gallup/USA Today poll released Jan. 13 showed that 55 percent disapproved of legalizing illegal immigrants, with 42 percent in favor. Among low-income respondents, an even greater majority opposed the plan.

Gallup also found that 74 percent of respondents, in general, were opposed to aiding undocumented workers, up from 67 percent who felt that way in August 2001.

The president defended his immigration proposal in his State of the Union address last night, but many conservative activists didn’t seem ready to be convinced.

The Christian Coalition of Georgia has invited Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican and staunch critic of Mr. Bush’s immigration proposal, to lead its panel discussion on immigration.

Mr. Kent said he expects the normally Bush-friendly Christian Coalition crowd to be angry at what they see as a wrongheaded play by Mr. Bush’s chief political adviser, Karl Rove, to attract Hispanic votes to the Republican ticket in November.

For each Hispanic vote gained, many more conservatives could be lost, Mr. Kent said.

“We would prefer that Bush win, but if Rove is going to take the base for granted, he’s making a big mistake,” he said.

Political consultant Matt Leonardo, who has worked with many successful conservative candidates, said he does not sense the mass conservative anger others detect.

“Anyone looking for cracks in the base will be looking for a long time,” Mr. Leonardo said, attributing to Mr. Bush “a Reagan-like ability to rally the party.”

“This president has yet to officially make his case for the immigration plan,” Mr. Leonardo said. “This president has proved time and time again that once he makes his case, he’s trusted by the public. And you’ll see that again on immigration.”

A conservative activist who has worked to help the Bush-Cheney campaign but asked not to be identified said many people with whom he talks are beginning to justify in their minds a one-term Bush presidency.

“As long as Republicans and conservatives keep the Congress, we can lose the White House,” the activist said. “Let Karl Rove put that in his pipe and smoke it, because we can use the Congress to block a Democratic president’s judges and initiatives.”

Phil Mabry, a Republican from outside Dallas who has worked for his party for 35 years, said the “worst thing” the Bush-Cheney campaign can do is take conservatives for granted.

“He’s going to lose thousands of votes that he can’t afford to lose,” Mr. Mabry said. “Reagan he ain’t and Reagan he will never be.”

• Researcher Clark Eberly contributed to this report.

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