Dec. 27, 2007 -- CNN's Lou Dobbs could come under pressure to run for president from a group opposed to illegal immigration if the GOP nominates former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Arizona Sen. John McCain or former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
"We still hope that we can get a comprehensive enforcement candidate out of the Republican field," William Gheen, the president of Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, told ABC News. "But if we can't, we're going to grab Lou Dobbs by the ear and drag him into the race."
Dobbs has not taken any formal steps to become a presidential candidate. But The Wall Street Journal reported last month that friends of Dobbs say he is "seriously contemplating a race for the first time, although it's still unlikely."
Dobbs would not have anywhere near the financial resources of billionaire New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who is contemplating an independent bid.
But political scientists who have studied Ross Perot's 1992 run believe that the CNN anchor's well-honed position against illegal immigration and free trade could give him a well-defined ideological niche.
ALIPAC's threat to back a third-party run by Dobbs came as the group began making thousands of anti-Huckabee calls in Iowa.
Huckabee is being targeted by ALIPAC because Gheen believes the former Arkansas governor is using a recent endorsement by Jim Gilchrist, co-founder of the Minuteman Project, which opposes illegal immigration, to shield his immigration plan from scrutiny.
"We've got a traitor to the movement and a lying candidate," said Gheen, referring to Gilchrist and Huckabee.
Huckabee's immigration proposal, which he unveiled earlier this month, would require illegal immigrants currently in the U.S. to register within 120 days of the law's enactment and leave the country before gaining legal status in the United States. Illegal immigrants who fail to comply with the registration requirement would be deported and barred from re-entry for 10 years.
Huckabee says he will require illegal immigrants who return to their native countries to "get in the back of line," a rhetorical talking point popular with conservatives.
But he opened himself up to criticism from ALIPAC by telling Fox News Sunday on Dec. 9 that "getting in the back of the line" would take "days, maybe weeks, not years."
"Look," Huckabee told Fox's Chris Wallace, "if we can get a credit card application done within hours, it shouldn't take years to get a work permit to come here and pick lettuce. So part of my plan is that we seal the borders. You don't have amnesty and sanctuary cities. You do have a pathway to get back here legally that would take days, maybe weeks, not years."
Huckabee was quizzed about his touchback provision last week at a public event where local voters asked questions.
Deb Miller of Muscatine, Iowa, wanted to know if illegal immigrants would be allowed to come back to the United States right away after touching back in their native country.
"No, no, no," Huckabee told her. "They touch back. Then they get in the back of the line. Then they have to get through the paperwork and start over."
He would not, however, specify how long the process would take. For Huckabee, the period of time that an illegal immigrant would have to remain outside of the United States would turn on how swiftly a revamped legal immigration system would take.
"Depends how the government's plan comes up," said Huckabee.
"Here's the thing," he added, "everyone who's in line in front of them would have to get processed before these folks who are in the back of the line."
ALIPAC's anti-Huckabee calls, which are being made to 43,000 Iowa Republicans, are in the form of a poll. But the poll's phrasing is designed to spread rather than to gather information.
"We're asking: Do you support or oppose Mike Huckabee's touch-back amnesty plan to allow illegal immigrants to leave the United States and then to return legally in a day?" said Gheen.
"We're asking the question with the intent of informing people about it, but we want to document what we think the response will be."
To generate free-media coverage, ALIPAC plans to release the results of its skewed "survey" to the press.
Gheen, who has met Dobbs once and has appeared on his show, has not had any direct contact with the CNN anchor about a presidential run. But that has not dimmed his belief that a Dobbs bid could prove necessary if the GOP nominates Huckabee, McCain or Giuliani instead of Texas Rep. Ron Paul, California Rep. Duncan Hunter, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, or former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson.
"We cannot have an election," said Gheen, "where the same thing will happen regardless of who people vote for."