In the straw poll of 458 GOP precinct leaders officials in Maricopa County (Phoenix-Scottsdale), Hunter won 96 votes, and Gov. Mitt Romney finished second with 82 votes. Perhaps the biggest news was that homestate Sen. John McCain finished a distant 4th with 50 votes.
This is only a straw poll, and a small one at that. Still, it suggests that (at least in some states) illegal immigration could be a pivotal issue. Hunter has made this issue the centerpiece of his message, bragging that he spearheaded passage of a bill funding a new 700-mile fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Although Hunter remains a longshot, the GOP would do the Democrats a huge favor by nominating someone like him. Someone who has spent 14 terms in Congress cannot position himself as an "outsider" running against Washington.
Hunter would crash and burn in the general election for a variety of reasons. For starters, it wouldn't be hard to associate him with DeLay and the rest of the discredited GOP House leadership that turned earmarks into an art form, drove up the deficit and took corruption to a whole new level.
According to the Congressional Research Service, that 700-mile fence will cost 20 times more than Hunter said it would cost to build.
In a general election, Hunter would also suffer from his steady support for Bush's policies in Iraq. And although Hunter's obsession with the illegal immigration issue might help him with GOP primary voters, it probably would cost him at least as many votes in the general election as it would gain him.