Capitol Alert
By David Siders
April 21, 2016 – 10:00 AM

  • Immigration remains major issue for Republicans in Riverside County
  • Republican presidential candidates’ focus on immigration elevates debate
  • Candidates gearing up for critical primary in California on June 7

MURRIETA– Morning light filtered into the doughnut shop in Murrieta’s old downtown, and Bob Swinford lingered over coffee, longing for a revolution.

Immigrants from Mexico, the retired truck driver said last week, have “overrun” this corner of Riverside County, coddled by a liberal state. Among California’s offenses in his reckoning: Granting driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants and giving undocumented immigrant college students access to financial aid.

Yet in the Republican presidential primary, Swinford, 80, holds hope. His party’s front-runner, Donald Trump, can trace his rise in part to his signature policy proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, and to his claim that rapists and other criminals are flooding into the United States. Both Trump and Ted Cruz, the senator from Texas, have pledged to deport immigrants living in the country illegally.

In Murrieta, a conservative outpost 80 miles from the Mexico line, the presidential primary’s sharp rhetoric serves as counterpoint to a more permissive approach to immigration in this heavily Democratic state. It’s elevating a brand of hardline politics that for many Californians had begun to fade from view.

Swinford pushed back his chair and walked out onto the sidewalk.

“We need a revolt,” he said.

As a trio of Republican presidential candidates prepare to campaign in California ahead of the state’s June 7 primary, their greeting party continues to shrink. The number of Republicans in California has dwindled as the electorate grows more liberal and diverse. No Republican holds statewide office, and party registration has fallen below 28 percent.

Unlike Trump and Cruz, Republicans running for statewide office in recent years have tempered their tone on immigration, adopting profiles closer to that of Ohio Gov. John Kasich – a relatively moderate Republican – in a bid to appeal to Latino voters. The California Republican Party removed the term “illegal alien” from its platform last year and withdrew its support for a proposal to require workers on guest visas to get special identification cards allowing the government to track them.

Even then, however, members of the party’s political and professional classes suspected fervor surrounding the presidential campaign would drown their efforts out. Trump’s rise in state polls confirmed their fears, underscoring enduring concern about illegal immigration among the party’s rank and file.

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