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At GOP Governors Meeting, Immigration Casts A Wide Shadow

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (center) talks about recent Republican Party gains and the road ahead for the GOP as Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (left) and Texas Gov. Rick Perry listen during a Wednesday press conference at the Republican governors' conference in Boca Raton, Fla.
J Pat Carter

More than two dozen members of the Republican Governors Association gathered this week in Boca Raton, Fla., to talk about policy issues and bask in their success after the recent midterm election.

Under New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's chairmanship, the RGA spent $130 million and achieved remarkable success at the polls: All but two Republican governors running for re-election won. And the GOP even won governors' races in deep blue states like Illinois, Massachusetts and Maryland.

Their message? Republican governors are putting conservative principles into practice in their states, and they won't allow their party to be defined by what they call "the dysfunction in Washington."

Yet even before the governors held their first news conference, they found themselves once again responding to news from Washington.

In this case, it was President Obama's executive action on immigration. At news conferences, and at a Wednesday afternoon panel moderated by NBC's Chuck Todd, governors were pressed for their views on Obama's action, on immigration, and on how they would handle the millions of undocumented immigrants currently here.

Louisiana's Bobby Jindal and Wisconsin's Scott Walker bristled at Todd's repeated questions on immigration. "Scott's tried. I've tried," Jindal said. "I'd like to talk about energy. I'd like to talk about education."

Walker maintains that while immigration may be important, it was not an issue that came up in his campaign or in many other states. Walker said of immigration, "If you went out on the campaign trail with us, none of us heard this issue in our races. And I dare say it probably wasn't one of the top issues in most United States Senate or House races out there."

If immigration didn't rank as a top issue in most governors' races, it does with a group that's growing in importance in the U.S. — Hispanics. A recent Gallup poll shows immigration ranks as the second most important issue among Hispanics after the economy.

At the conference in Boca Raton this week, Ohio Gov. John Kasich said, "It's a cool time to be a Republican. I think young people are back looking at us again. We lost them for a while, but I think they're back. In my state, we're seeing minorities now voting Republican."

But how Republicans respond to Obama's moves on immigration may affect how Hispanics feel about the GOP.

In Texas, California, Florida and other states where Hispanics are an important voting bloc, it's likely to continue as an important issue going into 2016 — when Jindal, Walker, Kasich and other governors are considering running for president.

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As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.
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