Sen. Marco Rubio's 2013 support of comprehensive immigration reform continues to irk some conservatives — and Iowa could test if voters remain interested in his past work on the Gang of Eight.
Despite Rubio's repeated renunciation of support for amnesty
for illegal immigrants, it's become a focus of attacks particularly from GOP presidential rival Sen. Ted Cruz.
"There are a lot of conservatives who feel lied to by Rubio," RedState.com blogger Erick Erickson tells The Washington Post.
Rubio begins a three-day bus tour Monday across Iowa, where Cruz is leading
in some of the latest polls of GOP voters —
and where Rubio-backer Trey Gowdy
, the South Carolina lawmaker who headed the House committee investigating Benghazi, will join him.
In Iowa, the Washington Post notes, conservative activists play a dominant role, and immigration — which played heavily in the fifth GOP debate clash between Rubio and Cruz — could come into play.
"I think we need to deal with immigration once and for all. It's been confronting the country for 30 years," Rubio said prior to that debate, the Post reports, adding later the effort is "not going to be able to be comprehensive. It's going to have to be done in stages."
Rubio also put Cruz on defense in the debate, pointing to an amendment Cruz submitted that would have granted legal status, but not citizenship to undocumented immigrants, the Post reports.
Cruz counters that the amendment was a poison pill.
And though Rubio's supporters argue he's not so different in his immigration stance than Cruz, it may not be a point that wins over voters.
"At the end of the day when people go vote, people are going to remember, of the two, it was Marco Rubio that was a member of the Gang of Eight and Ted Cruz that wasn't, and that's as complicated or simple as it's going to end up being," conservative radio show host Rush Limbaugh
"I do think that the immigration issue hurts him more than Ted Cruz because he wasn't able to get" a law passed and "Democrats were able to use his name," Erickson tells the Post.
In a radio ad released before the fifth debate, a super PAC backing Cruz was already hammering away at that point, asking "other than his Gang of Eight amnesty bill, can anyone think of anything Marco Rubio's ever done?"
The Post posted audio of the radio spot.
Rick Wilson, who works for a super PAC supporting the candidate, discounts the last debate's focus on Rubio's past immigration position.
"What this debate ended up producing on immigration is a lot more heat than light," he tells the Post. "If folks were opposed to Marco Rubio before this, it was already baked into the cake."
"At the end of the day there is going to be a lot of debate about this, but there's going to be a debate about a lot of other broad and consequential issues," he adds.
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