Huckabee Picks Up Minuteman Founder Endorsement
COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa -- Mike Huckabee, under fire for some of his immigration stands while governor of Arkansas, picked up an endorsement in Council Bluffs, Iowa, from the ultimate illegal immigration opponent: Jim Gilchrist, founder of the Minuteman Project, the group that has roamed the border for the last several years operating effectively as an independent border patrol.
President Bush called the group "vigilantes" two years ago. But Huckabee seemed eager to announce the endorsement, as it came on a day when former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney started running an ad that slams Huckabee for backing a provision that would have allowed the children of illegal immigrants to receive in-state tuition in Arkansas.
"Frankly, Jim I've got to tell you there were times in the early days of the Minutemen I thought what are these guys doing, what are they about," Huckabee said. "I confess I owe you an apology." He said of Gilchrist, "nobody can question his commitment to his country."
Gilchrist, an ally of the candidate who has been most anti-illegal immigration in the GOP field, Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo, said his endorsement of Huckabee stemmed from the former governor's recent statements on the issue, particularly a plan that Huckabee put out last week that would require illegal immigrants country in the country to go to their country of origin before trying to return. The plan also would build a border fence and increase fines on employers who hire illegal immigrants, similar to proposals offered by some of Huckabee's opponents in the GOP nomination process.
"It was a plan I myself could have written," said Gilchrist, who noted the Huckabee campaign reviewed the proposal with him before it was released.
To say Huckabee and Gilchrist have different tones on how they speak about immigration is an understatement; Gilchrist has used the term "invasion" to describe the increase in illegal immigrants in the country, Huckabee tried to reduce the college bills of their kids, a plan he still defends while proposing nothing of the kind nationally.
But illegal immigration has become to the GOP nomination process what health care is for the Democrats, an issue every candidate must speak about and present a detailed plan for how they would tackle the challenge if elected president. Huckabee yesterday started running an ad saying he would stop illegal immigrants from crossing the border just as Romney dialed up his anti-Huckabee rhetoric on the issue.
Polls in the early states have shown immigration is on the minds of voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, even though they are not border states. Both Republican and Democratic candidates find themselves constantly asked about the issue.
Republican crowds in particular like the sort of rhetoric Huckabee has adopted on immigration, focusing on making sure illegal immigrants don't enter the country. But the Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, a group that supports legislation that would create a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants already here, called Huckabee's plan "reckless, desperate and irresponsible policy" in a statement.
--Perry Bacon Jr.
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