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Immigration reform: Can a supporter win GOP nomination in 2016?

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So for Republicans, there’s an obvious tension in positioning around the immigration issue. Should GOP hopefuls aim to win 2016 primary contests with an anti-immigration reform stance that could potentially turn off valuable general-election swing voters? Think potential White House wannabes Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas, who have made clear their views against reform and for a stronger border.

Or is it perhaps more politically astute to think long, carve out some middle ground on the issue, and seek compromise with Democrats?

“Pro-reform candidates could have a hard time in the caucuses and primaries, but let’s remember there are other issues that drive activists, too,” says David Yepsen, a longtime Des Moines Register political reporter. “Electability in November and likability on the stump are two.”

After two White House losses, Republicans will be “hungry” to win come November 2016, says Mr. Yepsen, now director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. One consideration: If immigration reform passes soon, that leaves at least two years before a presidential primary campaign gets going in earnest. Voters are likely to turn their attention to other issues by then. In other words, the fervor over this debate might fade.

“If a candidate puts together a package that’s attractive overall, some hard-liners may overlook a single issue in favor of getting a candidate who might actually stand a chance of winning,” Yepsen says.  

In New Hampshire, where Democrats hold the governor’s office and three of four congressional assignments, the immigration reform issue doesn’t read as it might in more-conservative states, says Dante Scala, an associate professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire in Durham.

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