"McCain has taken a real beating in South Carolina because of it, as did his ally Lindsey Graham"
McCain and Illegal Immigration
At last May's S.C. Republican convention, Sen. Lindsey Graham defended John McCain's immigration reform plan. He was booed by his own party.
Graham, R-S.C., is now crisscrossing the state stumping for McCain, who is leading the GOP field despite being at odds with many state Republicans on immigration.
Monday's Rasmussen poll showed McCain ahead by 9 points as Saturday's Republican primary approaches.
No one disputes that illegal immigration has been a hot issue in South Carolina. In several polls, including November's Winthrop University-ETV poll, Republican voters chose immigration as the most important issue.
But political experts say McCain has run well on other issues, emphasizing a strong national defense, anti-terrorism and support for the Iraq war. They also say McCain built allies early, capitalizing on support from his 2000 race against President Bush.
However, most agree that McCain's stance on immigration has cost him support.
"McCain has taken a real beating in South Carolina because of it, as did his ally Lindsey Graham," said Scott Huffmon, professor of political science at Winthrop, who helped conduct the poll.
Some S.C. Republicans derisively called the plan to allow illegal immigrants identification cards "Grahamnesty."
Immigration came to the forefront when the Senate debated a bill last May that would have allowed some previously illegal workers to remain in the country. McCain and Graham, along with President Bush, supported the bipartisan bill. McCain was considered a key architect of the plan.
The bill died. A major opponent was the other U.S. senator from South Carolina, Jim DeMint, of Greenville.
Huffmon said illegal immigration was listed as the top issue in the recent Winthrop poll. Nevertheless, it drew only 20 percent of the GOP respondents.
It still topped the war in Iraq and the economy as the most important subject among the GOP in South Carolina.