Pure Horserace: Is GOP "Torn Asunder?"

generic election 2008 white house president romney rudy giuliani john mccain mcain
In her weekly column for CBSNews.com, Kathy Frankovic, the veteran polling director at CBS News, explained why immigration is "really a Republican issue now" in the sense that the GOP is divided over it. Is it ever.

The latest sign of severe unease within the party about the White House-backed immigration reform legislation comes courtesy of the Washington Times, which today reports that the Republican National Committee has fired all 65 of its phone bank operators. The RNC told the Times the move is a result of outdated technology but one former employee says the donations the workers were bringing in were down — mostly as a result of grass-roots anger over the immigration bill.

The RNC refutes that, but it's one in a growing list of signs that this is an issue causing problems for the national party — and its 2008 presidential candidates. Former GOP speechwriter and columnist Peggy Noonan writes that with the bill, combined with other factors, President Bush "has torn the conservative coalition asunder." Bloggers are often not so kind about a proposal they see as providing amnesty to immigrants already in the country illegally.

Caught in the middle of all this, of course, are the party's presidential candidates, most notably Sen. John McCain, a co-sponsor of the legislation. The Arizona senator has been the target for upset conservatives, but he has started fighting back. In an interview with blogger Ed Morrissey, McCain continues to make his case (to a mostly conservative audience) that amnesty is precisely the condition which describes the status quo, which "we all agree is unacceptable."

McCain's opponents have enjoyed an opportunity to jab at the one-time consensus front-runner — but they aren't immune to feeling the heat on this issue. The Boston Globe points out today that while Mitt Romney has had some fun at McCain's expense, "he has offered no specific solutions of his own" outside of general principles and is "facing increasing questions about what he would do about the problem."

According to a recent CBS News poll, strengthening immigration laws is the top domestic concern among Republican primary voters (40 percent) — and the majority of that group hold hard-line views on the topic. Immigration is clearly an issue that divides the GOP, and one where middle ground is difficult to find. How the candidates negotiate these waters could go a long way towards determining who's in and who's out come next year. Vaughn Ververs

Take What You Can Get: If you're a top-tier presidential contender, it's not hard to get on television. A cadre of reporters and cameras follows you wherever you go, documenting your every move — including the ones you'd rather have to yourself. But how do you get on TV if you're far lower on the media's totem pole — not deemed newsworthy and lacking the money to throw a bunch of ads on the air?

One answer is to pounce on your pet issue any time it comes up in the news. Republican Reps. Tom Tancredo and Duncan Hunter haven't gained much traction with their presidential bids, but anyone who's watched the cable news channels' coverage of the immigration bill before Congress has probably seen them criticizing the legislation. Both have made the issue a centerpiece of their campaigns.

Issues other than immigration also provide an opportunity for free publicity. The case of a Georgia man who traveled the world and re-entered the U.S. with a drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis wouldn't seem ripe for political gain, but former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson may think otherwise. Thompson, who served as Health and Human Services Secretary in President Bush's first term, was on MSNBC this morning, discussing the country's ability to keep carriers of virulent diseases outside its borders.

The problem with this approach is it doesn't work well for every candidate — but if an opportunity to discuss a return to the gold standard shows up on the news, you can bet Ron Paul will be there. — David Miller

The Intelligence Test: John Edwards has implied throughout his campaign that one thing that makes him a better candidate than Hillary Clinton is his admission that his vote to authorize the Iraq war in 2002 was a mistake — Clinton has said she would not vote for the war knowing what she knows now, but hasn't apologized for her prior decision.

Edwards' tactic has helped him garner support from the party's most stridently anti-war elements and the blogging community. But just when he seemed to have one more opening, it's been taken away. Clinton has taken flak over the past week after it was revealed she had not read the entire National Intelligence Estimate that provided much of the basis for the war. She says she was fully briefed about the contents, but critics wonder how the senator could have voted on such a momentous issue without going through the report itself with a fine-tooth comb.

Perfect opportunity for Edwards to jump in, right? Well, no, because it turns out that despite having indicated he did read the full report, his campaign now says he did not. Not reading the NIE, in and of itself, isn't the problem for Edwards; after all, he apologized for his vote. But he's certainly not in a position to add this particular criticism to his stump speeches. — David Miller

Dodd Goes Green: Sen. Chris Dodd's first ads in Iowa and New Hampshire went directly after his rival Democrats, at least those serving in Congress, for not doing enough to stop the war in Iraq. In his third wave, which hit the air yesterday, the senator from Connecticut is touting his environmental plans. Surrounded by children playing with blow-up globes, the ad touts Dodd's recently unveiled energy plan and claims his in the only one to include a corporate carbon tax. Climate change is a hot topic, and the children singing "We've got the whole world in our hands" is a nice touch — but so far, the early advertising hasn't paid off in the polls. Vaughn Ververs

Gotta Work To Crack The Granite State: CBS News' Brain Goldsmith chatted with New Hampshire-based pollster Dick Bennett for today's Political Players and discovered that hard work and organization still pay off in the Granite State. Could that be good news for McCain and Clinton? Read the whole interview here.

Editor's Note: Pure Horserace is a daily update of political news as interpreted by the political observers at CBSNews.com. Click here to sign up for the e-mail version.

By Vaughn Ververs and David Miller