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Will Rand Paul's Stance on Immigration Reform Hurt Him in 2016?

by Wendy Innes, published

In June, the junior Republican senator from Kentucky, Rand Paul, weighed in on the always controversial issue of immigration reform. The libertarian-leaning darling of the tea party tread into precarious territory by supporting efforts to reform the country's immigration system, something that some say cost his colleague, U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), dearly.

Paul reportedly took part in a conference call with the Partnership for the New American Economy, a pro-reform group, on June 11, prompting the group to email its supporters saying that Paul was on board with its efforts.

While this might not seem like a bad thing to some, it was reported that these type of reform efforts may have played a significant role in Cantor's stunning primary defeat on June 10. And if Cantor's loss is an indication of things to come within the Republican Party, some say Paul could have trouble securing the party's nomination for the 2016 presidential race.

Paul maintains that while he does support common sense immigration reform, he does not support amnesty.

"I do not support amnesty; I support legal immigration and recognize that the country has been enriched by those who seek the freedom to make a life for themselves," he says on his website.

He went on to detail the reforms he supports and the reforms he doesn't in a statement on the issue. He also put forth an amendment on the 2013 immigration bill that would strengthen border security by withholding spending authorization without annual votes in Congress.

"Many conservatives chalked up Cantor's defeat to his support for immigration reform, which they interpret as “amnesty and citizenship for lawbreakers," said Dr. Edward Hudgins, director of advocacy and senior scholar at The Atlas Society.

Hudgins is a former senior economist at the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress and the author of "The Republican Party's Civil War: Will Freedom Win?"

Paul has long been a tea party favorite. However, some may perceive this shift on immigration reform as a move toward the middle in the "civil war" between establishment Republicans, who see reform as essential to economic growth and necessary for the party's relevance in national elections, and tea party activists who believe the current reform efforts in Congress will equate to rewarding illegals for breaking the law.

However, Hudgins says, conservatives are missing the boat.

"A survey released by the liberal Public Policy Polling found some 70 percent of voters in Cantor's district favor reform that includes securing the border, barring businesses from hiring illegals, but also allowing undocumented aliens a way to legally remain in the U.S."

What that means is that reports of a huge grassroots effort to defeat Cantor based on immigration simply weren't true or were exaggerated.

Was there an effort to defeat Cantor based on his immigration position? Maybe. Did those efforts amount to a sweeping defeat? Probably not. What really won Dave Brat the primary was the economy, something Brat, the Economics professor, knows well. However, he is a social conservative as well, and it remains to be seen how this will play with the more liberally-minded voters in northern Virginia.

While some are speculating that it will be immigration reform that will be the undoing of Paul in the 2016 presidential primary, this isn't likely, according to Mary Anna Mancuso, a political strategist and founder of

"Senator Paul's stance on immigration won't hurt him for a couple of reasons," Mancuso said. "One, he voted against the 'Gang of Eight' bill which [Marco] Rubio helped craft, and wants the GOP to move beyond deportations as a way to court the Latino vote,"

She added that Hispanics are the fastest growing voter base in America, and they will see an approximately 17 percent increase in eligible voters in 2016.

In regards to Paul's status as a tea party favorite and his ability to secure the GOP nomination, Mancuso said:

"I don't think he'll lose because as you mentioned, he's a GOP and a Tea Party darling, who would run against him? Senator Paul has a strong and vibrant base full of grassroots supporters, any opposition would fall short."

Paul's move toward the middle on immigration could make him more appealing to independent voters as well. And this could be a winning strategy as half of all Hispanic voters are Independent.

However, according to Time Magazine, Paul's tightrope act could be seen by some as playing politics with border security.

On the conference call with the Partnership for A New American Economy, Paul said that "If we do nothing, the status quo continues."

"But do I want to send a signal to everyone in Mexico that if you come and join our military you get to be a citizen, that’s a bad signal. But that’s sort of the signal that’s going out now across central America," he added.

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