Sunday, September 25, 2011

Delegates slam Perry on immigration

ORLANDO, Fla.—Rick Perry hit a roadblock on immigration at Florida’s Presidency 5 straw poll on Saturday.

An issue that may have less impact in other early-state Republican primaries, immigration is a hot-button issue in Florida — and Perry’s botched attempt to explain his policies back home in Texas during Thursday’s Fox News debate has soured conservative activists here on him.

In interview after interview as they filed out of the Orange County Convention Center hall where votes were cast, delegates pointed to his support for a state-based version of the DREAM Act — which provides in-state tuition rates to some illegal immigrants — and his denouncement of those who disagree as lacking “a heart.”

“I looked at my wife when he said that and said, ‘I think he may have just lost,’ … because it was making it personal to a lot of Republicans,” Florida State Rep. Scott Plakon said of the debate answer. “His stances on immigration and [mandating the HPV vaccine], I actually think he could have gotten around that. But saying that you don’t have a heart if you disagree on such an issue like that was a very poor choice of words. I know a lot of the Republicans here were offended by it.”

Plakon decided to support former pizza baron Herman Cain, who won an upset victory with more votes than the next two finishers, Perry and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, combined.

Several delegates said Perry needed to give a better explanation for the policy, as well as his opposition to a fence along the Texas-Mexico border. And Perry’s decision to frame the issue with the kind of language more typically used by liberals repulsed some base voters.

“I considered Perry until he said we don’t have a heart,” said Joe Burk from Orlando, who voted for Romney. “We can get that liberal guilt trip stuff from someone else.”

Immigration is particularly potent in Florida politics. Florida Gov. Rick Scott won an upset victory in the GOP primary last year after attacking state Attorney General Bill McCollum for his more moderate stances.

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