WASHINGTON — Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson seized what may be the hottest issue in the Republican presidential race this week, proposing a tough plan to curb illegal immigration.
No other issue motivates grass-roots Republicans more, GOP consultants say.
Thompson's first principle: "No amnesty." That's a shot at his rival Sen. John McCain, who's long championed a comprehensive plan that would put some 12 million illegals on a path to citizenship. Opponents denounce McCain's plan as "amnesty."
Other Thompson-plan highlights: Double Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, boost the Border Patrol to at least 25,000, strengthen border enforcement, prosecute illegal workers and their employers, make English the official language.
He also called for stripping federal money from cities and states that refuse to report illegals to authorities — and criticized former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for supporting "sanctuary cities."
Giuliani fired back Thursday, vowing to stop illegal immigration in three years, largely with tough border enforcement. But his plan is less ambitious than Thompson's.
Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado has been even sharper in denouncing illegal immigration, but he's getting no traction while Thompson's running second in most national polls. For a candidate whom critics dismissed as lacking fire in the belly, Thompson showed some steam on this one, for his zeal in seizing the issue and his pointed shots at his rivals.
In the weeks after 9-11, Giuliani was nowhere more visible than at Yankee Stadium, cheering the Bronx Bombers in October playoffs. But the Yankees didn't make the World Series this year. So guess who he's rooting for? The Yankees' archenemies, the hated Boston Red Sox! He says he always backs the American League team, unless the New York Mets represent the National League. He didn't mention that first-primary state New Hampshire, like the rest of New England, is a proud part of "Red Sox Nation." This may help him in New England, but not in New York. The tabloid New York Daily News' judgment: "Traitor."
BASEBALL, SURE, BUT COLLEGE FOOTBALL? SEE YOU LATER!
Meanwhile, Thompson allowed as how he's pulling for the Colorado Rockies. One reason is "they'll be an underdog; I kind of like that." Also, star first baseman Todd Helton is "an old Tennessee boy."
However, when he was asked who he likes in Saturday's Tennessee-South Carolina football game, Tennessean Thompson — wooing voters in South Carolina — cut off questions. "OK, I think we're out of time."
HOW ABOUT NONE OF THE ABOVE?
Bumper sticker spotted in South Carolina: "I'd rather be hunting with Dick Cheney than driving with Ted Kennedy."
OBAMA, CLINTON, BUSH — TOGETHER ON IRAN!
Who'd a thunk it? President Bush imposed sanctions Thursday on Iran, and Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both applauded. Remarkable, considering that Obama's been faulting Clinton's vote for a Senate resolution that dubbed an Iranian military wing "terrorist." He said that gave Bush a green light to strike later. She said no, it just upped the diplomatic ante. Both said Bush did right Thursday. "It is important to have tough sanctions on Iran," Obama said, "but these sanctions must not be linked . . . to take military action against Iran." Clinton said the new sanctions "strengthen America's diplomatic hand."
WOULD-BE FIRST LADIES MAKE NICE
Elizabeth Edwards, Cindy McCain, Michelle Obama, Ann Romney and Jeri Kehn Thompson make for an unusual women's club, but the five spouses of presidential candidates sat together for a one-hour forum Tuesday to discuss life on the campaign trail. (Bill Clinton didn't show.) The women played down their own roles and complained about the toll that campaigns take on family life. They got along amazingly well, considering that their husbands are partisan and ideological rivals, and each wants to deny the others' dreams. Edwards defined the bottom line: It's the candidates that matter, not the spouses: "He's the person who has to make the final sale. This is a likable group of women, but it honestly doesn't matter."
OBAMA: NO GOOD NEWS
A Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times poll showed Clinton expanding her national lead over Obama to 48-17. Meanwhile, a Gallup poll found that talk-show billionaire Oprah Winfrey's endorsement of Obama gave him no boost. The Illinois senator ramped up his advertising in Iowa, where he remains competitive, and rallied in Boston with Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who's endorsed him. But a series of gospel concerts aimed at black supporters in the early primary state of South Carolina became a political hot potato for Obama after gay rights activists criticized his decision to include the Rev. Donnie McClurkin. The once-gay performer has preached that homosexuality is a curse that can be cured. Obama issued a statement saying he supports gay rights, but he kept McClurkin on his gospel tour, angering gays.
ROMNEY'S UP IN NEW HAMPSHIRE
St. Anselm College's Institute of Politics put out a poll Thursday of New Hampshire, which will hold the first primary vote. It found:
Republicans: Romney 32.4 percent; Giuliani 21.8 percent; McCain 15.2 percent; Rep. Ron Paul 7.4 percent.
Democrats: Clinton 42.6 percent; Obama 21.5 percent; former Sen. John Edwards 13.9 percent.
Conducted Oct. 15-last Sunday. Error margins: 4.1 percentage points for Democrats, 4.5 for Republicans.
NATIONALLY, CLINTON AND GIULIANI WAY AHEAD
New Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg national poll:
Republicans: Giuliani 32 percent; Thompson 15; McCain 13; Romney 11; former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee 7.
Democrats: Clinton 48 percent; Obama 17; Edwards 13; New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson 2.
Poll taken Oct. 19-last Monday. Error margin: 3 percentage points.
Note: National polls mean little at this stage. Once voting begins, results can scramble fast.
Coming next week: Democrats debate Tuesday in Philadelphia.
(Margaret Talev and William Douglas contributed.)