Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum has gained some momentum in his bid for the governor's office, recent polls show, but the Republican is facing new backlash from Hispanics after proposing an immigration law similar to the controversial measure passed in Arizona.
Earlier this week, McCollum unveiled a plan for immigration reform that would require immigrants to carry legal paperwork or face up to 20 days in jail, the Miami Herald reported. It would also impose stiffer penalties on illegal immigrants who commit the same crimes as legal residents.
"Arizona is going to want this law," McCollum said when he unveiled the plan. "We're better, we're stronger, we're tougher and we're fairer."
A number of Hispanic Republicans in Florida, however, feel differently.
McCollum's proposed law would be "a great economic failure for Florida," state Rep. J.C. Planas said, the St. Petersburg Times reported. "We need more immigrants, not fewer."
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami, a co-chair of McCollum's Hispanic leadership team, said she was "disappointed and was blindsided" by McCollum's proposal, the Miami Herald reports.
"I encourage the candidates to focus on plans that will improve Florida's economy, bring jobs to our state and jump-start our tourism,'' she said. "I fail to see how promotion of this issue will accomplish that, and I was taken aback."
Republican lobbyist and fundraiser Ana Navarro, who advised the 2008 McCain presidential campaign, reportedly said she could no longer back McCollum's campaign.CBSNews.com Special Report: Campaign 2010
McCollum pulled together a conference call with his Hispanic leadership team late Thursday, according to the Herald, to address their concerns.
The Herald reports that McCollum initially criticized Arizona's law, which requires police officers, during lawful stops, to ask people about their immigration status if there is suspicion they are in the country illegally. McCollum reportedly changed his position after losing ground in the polls to his Republican primary opponent, Rick Scott.
Pursuing the strict immigration measure has provided a huge boost to Republican Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer's re-election campaign, and it has catapulted Brewer onto the national stage.
McCollum's effort to replicate that success is "a calculated and desperate political move," blasts former Democratic official Michael Yaki, a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
The controversy over McCollum's proposal began just as he has started to make inroads against Scott. A Mason-Dixon poll released yesterday showed McCollum ahead of Scott by 34 percent to 30 percent. Just a week earlier, Scott led McCollum by 37 percent to 31 percent.
Pollster Brad Coker said the change could be credited to McCollum's negative attacks against Scott, the Herald reported. Coker reportedly said the strategy could help McCollum in his Aug. 24 primary but hurt him in the long run.
"Democratic candidate Alex Sink is the clear winner from all of this," he said.