South Carolina is emerging as a critical battleground for immigration reform as pro-immigration conservatives look to protect Republican politicians working on a bill.
On Wednesday, two separate pro-immigration groups with close ties to the religious right and establishment Republicans launched ad campaigns supportive of immigration efforts in Congress.
Republicans For Immigration Reform, a new super PAC formed to give air cover to pro-immigration GOP politicians, is up with a $60,000 TV buy backing Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who is currently negotiating a bipartisan bill in the Senate. The group was co-founded by two veterans of Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign: former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, who organized President Bush’s failed immigration push and Romney’s Latino outreach efforts last year, and Charles Spies, who ran the pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future. The Partnership for a New American Economy, a nonpartisan group of business leaders and mayors led by New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, is running a related effort organize the state’s business community in support of reform.
The TV spot features Bryan Derreberry, president of the Charleston Chamber of Commerce, extolling the importance of immigration reform to South Carolina businesses and praising Graham for his work on the issue.
The new campaign is an indirect response to a $150,000 ad buy from anti-immigration group Numbers USA attacking Graham for supporting “amnesty” for illegal immigrants.
“We’ve been very explicit that if Republican supporters of comprehensive reform are getting attacked with paid media…it’s going to be our focus to come in and provide support,” Spies told reporters in a conference call.
Graham’s relationship with conservative activists has been strained in recent years and a primary challenge from the right built around immigration could make other politicians nervous about backing a final bill. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), who heads the House subcommittee examining immigration reform, has expressed interest in reform as well and might benefit from outside support during the negotiating process. Spies said that his group could take sides in GOP primaries if one candidate made their opponent’s support for reform an issue in the race.
In a separate effort, a coalition of churches more often associated with the conservative movement is launching a radio campaign of unknown size supporting “immigration solutions rooted in Biblical values,” including a path to citizenship for the undocumented population.
“Our South Carolina elected officials need your prayers and to hear your voice,” the narrator says in the spot by the Evangelical Immigration Table.
The ad is part of a broader campaign by the group, which includes many of the nation’s most influential evangelical churches and organizations, to promote immigration reform on scriptural grounds.
Rev. Trey Doyle of South Carolina’s First Baptist Church of York told reporters on a call announcing the radio campaign that while he had “a largely Caucasian congregation,” members had grown more receptive to reform as more Latinos and immigrants join evangelical churches.
“I believe the radio ads will further solidify the growing base of support for immigration reform,” Doyle said. “The new coalition forming around support for substantial immigration reform is illustrative of God’s kingdom in heaven.”
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.