Romney Immigration Position Could Hurt in Florida

With President Bush staying on the sidelines in the 2008 race, former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts has looked very much like the choice of the next-best Bush: Jeb, the former governor of electorally crucial Florida.

Jeb Bush's former aides have flocked to Romney's camp. Romney has listed him among his potential running mates, and Bush associates say the president's brother has steered them to Romney -- his fellow businessman-turned-governor -- when asked for advice on the presidential race.

But with Romney seeking to distance himself from his rivals by opposing the Senate immigration bill, Romney's relationship with Jeb Bush could suffer. The former Florida governor has voiced strong support for the type of immigration reform that's now before the Senate, viewing it as an important priority of his brother's -- and the right type of approach to a complicated issue.

Jeb Bush did not respond to a request for comment. But Ana Navarro, a Florida Republican activist and fundraiser who has worked with Jeb Bush on immigration issues in the past, said the former governor told her last weekend that he is "disappointed" that Romney has denounced the immigration bill in television advertisements.

"It's one of the biggest policy and legacy issues of his brother's administration, but more than that, Jeb believes in this," said Navarro, who is supporting Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., for president. "I don't speak for Jeb, but I know where his heart is on this issue."

Romney spokesman Kevin Madden said strong opinions on immigration are to be expected, and said such differences are not likely to "divide individuals."

"There's a great deal of mutual admiration between the two of them," Madden said. "On this particular issue, the governor has made clear his principles and what he'd like to see. It's obviously a very complex issue, and there are very different opinions."

Romney's strong opposition to the immigration bill now in Congress -- he calls it a "form of amnesty" -- could win him points with the party's conservative base. Romney is running television ads attacking the bill, which McCain helped craft with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., and a range of other lawmakers.

"Legal immigration is great. But illegal immigration, that we've got to end," Romney says in the ad, which has aired in Iowa and New Hampshire. "And amnesty is not the way to do it."

But Romney's position on immigration could cost him crucial political support in Florida, which, with the state's move to hold its primary Jan. 29, is poised to play an outsize role in the presidential nominating process.

Aside from the former governor, the Senate bill is being supported by current Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican, and Senator Mel Martinez, a Cuban immigrant who is chairman of the Republican National Committee and has been intricately involved in crafting the immigration bill.

Martinez said on CNN Sunday that the immigration bill "could be the saving of the Republican Party, frankly."

David E. Johnson, a Florida-based Republican consultant, said Romney's immigration stance could harm his relationship with Florida lawmakers, including Bush, who has strongly signaled that Romney is his preferred candidate for president.

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