Ariz. Gov. Brewer a rising GOP star thanks to immigration law

Aug 21 2010 - 10:38pm

YUMA, Ariz. -- Move over, Sarah Palin, there's another rising star in the Republican Party. Little-known even at home two years ago and locked in a tough three-way race for her party's nomination just months ago, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, 65, now has driven Republican rivals from the race, is coasting to the nomination in a primary Tuesday and is poised to win election to a full term.

She has become a regular on Fox News, has hundreds of thousands of fans on Facebook and entertains invitations from Republicans around the country to headline their dinners or endorse their candidacies.

The reason: She has become the face of opposition to President Barack Obama by championing a tough, controversial state law on illegal immigration. His administration sued the state, and won an injunction temporarily stopping enforcement of key parts of the measure while it's debated in court. She vows to fight all the way to the Supreme Court.

Opposing Obama

"We're representing the people. We stand up and we're not going to let the federal government push us around," she said.

Brewer was in her second term as Arizona's secretary of state when she moved up by law to fill the unexpired term of Democratic former Gov. Janet Napolitano, who was named as Obama's secretary of homeland security.

Brewer's most prominent achievement at the time had been overhauling the state's voting systems. She didn't even mention illegal immigration in her 2009 inauguration speech.

By last spring, Brewer's prospects for winning a full term were cloudy at best. She was locked in a three-way fight for the Republican nomination, and a poll found her slightly trailing the likely Democratic nominee, Attorney General Terry Goddard.

Then she signed the anti-immigration law in April. She went on TV repeatedly and met with Obama, who criticized the law as potentially discriminatory and challenged it in court.

The whole truth?

On the crest of her wave, Brewer sometimes has misstated things in her campaign.

While she was stressing the threat from criminals crossing the border, she said, "Law enforcement agencies have found bodies in the desert either buried or just lying out there that have been beheaded."

However, Arizona officials said they had no reports of criminal beheadings, and that the one human skull they had found in the desert probably had been removed from a body by animals.

Accused of being a Nazi for her support of the immigration law, she said that hurt especially because her father "died fighting the Nazi regime in Germany." In truth, her father worked in an Army depot in Nevada, didn't serve in the military or fight in World War II and died of cancer in 1955, perhaps caused by exposure to chemicals at the depot.

Fighting for America

She's focused like a laser beam, however, on her message of fighting Obama to stop illegal immigrants from hurting Arizona and its people.

While it may enrage critics as a polarizing move, it's broadly popular. Polls find that she has wide leads in her campaign at home. Polls also find majority support nationwide for the Arizona law, and majority or plurality opposition to the federal challenge.

"Some people will tell you Arizona has divided America," Brewer said. "We have united America."

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