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Illegal Immigration Angst, All Smoke And No Fire?

So Duncan Hunter, the sweetly boring nut I profiled back in December, endorsed Mike Huckabee. I'd predicted he'd go with Thompson or Romney based on his pet obsession - illegal immigration, a subject on which he's practically as intense as Tom Tancredo, and on which Huck's been notoriously flip-floppy and squishy. My bad!

The Dunc-Huck Alliance, though, illustrates a weird political dynamic that exists on illegal immigration - it's an issue that provokes incredibly high emotions, but people don't seem to act on those emotions. Despite the centrality of anti-illegal rhetoric to his campaign, Hunter endorsed on the basis of economic populism, as Jonathan Martin notes. (Buy American, folks!) If you'd told me back in May, while South Carolinians were flaying their senator Lindsey Graham as "Senator Grahamnesty" for his role in the doomed compromise bill, that McCain - another immigration softie - could win South Carolina, I would have laughed out loud. Indeed, in exit polls last Saturday, South Carolina Republicans rated illegal immigration as more important to their vote than terrorism. And yet they voted for McCain. McCain even did a close second best among the 52% of Republicans who said the best thing to do with illegal immigrants is to "deport them," hardly McCain's take on the question.

Why aren't anti-illegal types putting their money where their mouths are? Beats me, but it could be a good sign for how damaging the issue will be for Democrats in November.

-- Eve Fairbanks