Just how closely do you hug a controversial supporter? Especially a supporter who could be of a lot more help now than in the general election?
It seems this is a problem Mitt Romney has been pondering ever since he was embraced by the Kansas Secretary of State, Kris Kobach.
Kobach is perhaps best known as the lead architect of the divisive new immigration laws in Arizona and Alabama. This leaves Romney in a delicate situation: hugging him back now could help wrap up the GOP primary especially since the next hurdle is with the traditionally hardcore conservative base in South Carolina. However, if he doesn’t make some efforts to wriggle out of it before he has to start courting Hispanic votes, then it could become a bear hug.
It seems we just had a preview of how one goes about squaring that circle.
The story went wide for a holiday (it was Martin Luther King Day Monday), and that led to some rejoicing/pre-condemning from Latino groups who say Romney’s close connection with Kobach seals his fate with the Latino voter in November.
On a conference call Monday hosted by immigration reform advocacy group America’s Voice, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) said that Romney was making a big mistake in embracing Kris Kobach’s endorsement because Latino voters would not forget Romney’s association with the “dark lord of the anti-immigration movement,” no matter how many Cuban Republicans in Florida Romney surrounds himself with. America’s Voice president Frank Sharry noted that there were several reports that Kobach would appear with Romney in South Carolina, and that they would “wait and see if they’ve decided to go through with that or not.”
Turns out the answer was “not.” A subsequent Hill report quoted Kobach clarifying that Romney hadn’t asked him to appear at campaign event with him, but rather in the debate spin room Tuesday night in Myrtle Beach. As The Hill’s Cameron Joseph reported,
He said he will be joined [in the spin room] by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who has said all illegal immigrants should be deported and won his seat by hammering then-Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah) for supporting amnesty for undocumented immigrants, and Bay Buchanan, a longtime conservative activist who was a senior adviser on former Rep. Tom Tancredo’s (R-Colo.) 2008 presidential campaign. All three have endorsed Romney.
Both stories — first the announcement of an event and then the clarification that there wasn’t going to be an event — came from Kobach himself, not the Romney campaign. The campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment from The Hill nor did they respond to a couple of requests about Kobach from me today. Not even Fox News could get a straight answer from Romney about his plans with Kobach.
The Fox News Latino website reported Monday that “Romney’s campaign would neither confirm or deny that Monday the candidate was going to be with Kobach on the campaign trail in South Carolina,” though the site noted that Fox’s own Neil Cavuto mentioned a joint Romney-Kobach appearance on his show last week and asked Kobach about it.
Kobach did apparently hit the post-debate Spin Room to stump for his chosen candidate, though the Romney campaign did not respond to TPM’s request for further details.
It’s no secret that Kobach is a Romney supporter — Romney has touted his endorsement as a sign that he’s the get-tough guy on immigration — but it’s clear that a joint appearance featuring the two men may have created a headache for Romney in terms of negative press. Did the campaign plan an event with Kobach that was canceled? They’re not talking so we don’t know. But Kobach’s language on Friday certainly makes it seem like that was the plan. Instead, the Romney campaign kept the controversial figure close, putting him front and center for the campaign after the debate. But not close enough that he’d be pictured standing next to Romney.
Pema Levy contributed.