Are the tides turning for immigration reform in the House?

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It was only a week ago when prospects for the House passing broad immigration reform seemed dim.  However, after hearing this week from House Republicans - not including Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa - and looking at new polling data, it seems that the tides may be turning.

Addressing the notion of immigration opposition funding primary challenges, a top Republican working to pass immigration reform told CBS News that reports of powerful and moneyed opposition to reform have been overblown.

"There's a false sense of the weight of the opposition," he said, adding that he thinks the opposition "is a paper tiger."

That analysis is more than just supposition. According to a recent analysis of political spending on immigration issue advertising, pro-immigration reform groups have outspent anti-reform groups by nearly 3-to-1, with the total spent by both sides through June still less than $10 million.

The money appears to be on the side of the supporters of reform ,and supporters believe the opposition won't have the kind of money needed to run serious challenges against House Republicans who support reform. Additionally, one of the biggest outside Republican groups that has previously been engaged in Republican primaries, the Club for Growth, hasn't taken a position on immigration reform, and instead is focused on spending and health care.

This week supporters of reform were helped, in an odd twist, by controversial comments from the opposition that gave pro-reform House members a chance to draw the line - which they quickly took. King made headlines by taking aim at the idea of citizenship for children of illegal immigrants. "For every one who's a valedictorian," said the Iowa Republican, "there's another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert."

The comments drew quick condemnation. At a meeting of conservative Republicans, Idaho's Rep. Raul Labrador, a key voice on the issue, called the remarks "irresponsible and reprehensible" and "out of touch with the republican conference."

Those comments and others had the effect of marginalizing the opposition to the extremes of the party, says a Democrat working on reform efforts. And it's given more moderate Republicans cover to support it.

Meanwhile the latest CBS News poll showed conservative opposition to reform and to a path to citizenship is not really materializing. Much as they did this spring, seven in ten conservatives are willing to accept a "path to citizenship" for undocumented immigrants with conditions. They're not as supportive as liberals, but they're mostly supportive nonetheless.

A critical part of the GOP base, evangelical Christians, also support a path to citizenship (75 percent) taking cues from some of the community's leadership - which may further inoculate House members.

And a poll released last week by a Republican pro-reform group interviewed Republican primary voters specifically, and also found willingness to accept a path to citizenship, and not much fervor for opposition.

"A solid 65 percent majority of Republicans support a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants if it is coupled with substantially increased border security," according to the poll by Americans for a Conservative Direction.

Still, hurdles remain.

  • Robert Hendin On Twitter»

    Robert Hendin is senior producer for "Face the Nation" and a CBS News senior political producer.

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