Illegal immigration fight works for LePage but won’t change the race

Maine Gov. Paul LePage’s campaign is probably pretty pleased one of the hottest national political issues right now is the debate over illegal immigration.

The Republican campaigned hard against doling out Maine resources to undocumented or illegal immigrants in 2010 and it’s an area he was able to follow through on promises as governor. As he reminded voters in a weekly radio address last month, he repealed Maine’s status as a “sanctuary” state in one of his first acts in office, granting Maine officials the right to ask about the legal status of those applying for welfare benefits. He also urged taxpayers to “tell your city councilors and selectmen to stop handing out your money to illegals.”

“Illegal aliens who choose to live in Maine are not our most vulnerable citizens. We need to take care of Mainers first. I think most Mainers would agree,” he said.

He’s probably right.

And that puts Democrat Mike Michaud and independent Eliot Cutler in a squishy position – in a state where many are feeling the financial pinch, it’s politically challenging to advocate spending resources on folks who some would argue didn’t “play by the rules” or obey immigration law.

Michaud equivocated when asked for a statement by the Portland Press Herald, saying it’s “perfectly valid to have a discussion about who receives general assistance” but that it’s a costly burden to ask municipalities to look into immigration status.

Cutler, who trails the virtually tied LePage and Michaud by double-digits, used the dust-up as an opportunity to say a pox on both your houses.

“The Democratic attorney general and the Republican governor ought to stop fighting and work together to craft a solution created through negotiation, public input, and legal review,” he told the PPH.

This is a well LePage can keep going back to, as it rallies his base and ties into national GOP messaging ahead of the upcoming midterm elections. His opponents will have to keep on tying their tongues in knots to answer.

But as a topic likely to sway the election, it’s probably a non-starter.

There are two kind of issues in campaigns – the kind that fade after questions are asked and answered, and the kind that resonate. While this is resonating in some places nationally, particularly on the southern border, but it’s almost old news in Maine. Since there’s no new positioning here, or going against type, it’s likely debate on this issue won’t significantly change anyone’s minds.

Rebekah Metzler

About Rebekah Metzler

Rebekah Metzler is a breaking news editor for CNN's digital politics team in Washington. Previously, she was a senior news editor with U.S. News and World Report, where she began her three-year tenure as a political writer. She spent much of 2012 on the road covering the presidential campaign in battleground states across the country. Metzler proudly tells all who will listen she hails from the great state of Maine where she covered state politics for the Lewiston Sun Journal and MaineToday Media. Metzler earned her master’s degree in journalism from Boston University and her undergraduate degree from Bowdoin College.