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november 30, 2011 • 10:48 AM

Maybe It's Good The Candidates Take Some Time To Cool Off

Maybe It's Good The Candidates Take Some Time To Cool Off
Foto: Getty Images

The Republican presidential candidates were scheduled to debate again Thursday in Arizona, ground zero of the immigration battle. But with the pot newly stirred after last week's face-to-face showdown on CNN, at least some of them have to be thankful that the Arizona debate has been moved to February 22.

That's not keeping immigration from being the hot topic of the week (for most, at least; we'll get back to Herman Cain in a moment), once the candidates whack that hive it's hard to get the bees to stop buzzing.

Immigration is the third rail of politics in the upcoming elections. It's electrically charged, potentially lethal, and a polar either/or, plus or minus, positive/negative that kills a politician's chances with one group or another.

Newt Gingrich reached out and grabbed this lightning rod at the CNN debate, only to find himself pilloried for suggesting - egads! - that not all immigrants should be immediately rounded up and deported. His 10-point immigration plan actually offers a vague second-class status to long-term illegal immigrants with deep ties in their communities. It's not citizenship, exactly, but some kind of as-yet undefined 'earned legality.'

But that's not what conservatives heard. They quickly branded the once-upon-a-time darling of the right with the election's scarlet letter, the dreaded 'A' for amnesty.

Rick Perry knows how Newt feels. He got burned in an earlier debate for defending in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants.

But staking out the opposite view, a la Michele Bachmann, could spell doom among the growing Hispanic electorate. It's a short-term strategy, at best. It might draw enough disaffected white and/or tea party votes to win now, but alienate the Latinos the Republicans will need to win in the future.

Mitt Romney might realize this. Or he may just be doing his Mitt Thing, those signature campaign 'Dancing with the Stars' moves meant to dazzle with their fancy footwork, but never letting folks see where he really stands. He hasn't said how he'd deal with illegal immigrants already in the country, but he followed last week's debate with an anti-immigration mailer telling folks that when he was governor of Massachusetts he vetoed in-state tuition and opposed driver's licenses for illegal immigrants.

The dance only gets more complicated, though. Tuesday, Romney announced the endorsements of three powerful Cuban-American Republicans - U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and Mario and Lincoln Diaz-Balart. He didn't mention that all three voted in favor of the federal Dream Act, which would have granted legal status to some children of illegal immigrants.

And now, back to Herman Cain. He's facing fresh allegations about inappropriate sexual relations. (Man, there's an awful lot of smoke around a guy who keeps saying there's no fire.) So he may want to keep his mouth shut in the whole immigration debate and avoid any fresh controversy.

In fact, the best advice anyone might give him is, 'zip it!'

Then again, it might be too late.

Carlos Harrison for Terra.com