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Back in May I did a post predicting that the anti-immigrant (or anti-amnesty, or whatever you choose to call it) uprising begun in Arizona would get the most traction among southern Republicans, particularly in competitive primaries, thanks to a combination of new and highly visible Hispanic populations and very low levels of Hispanic voting. And sure enough, the issue has become significant in GOP gubernatorial primaries in Alabama and South Carolina, and most recently in Georgia, whose primary is on July 20.

I certainly didn’t anticipate that Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, hardly a political dynamo in her own state until recently, would become a factor in southern Republican primaries. But that’s what happened when a Georgia gubernatorial candidate, former Secretary of State Karen Handel, made a Brewer endorsement a major talking point of her campaign.

The endorsement itself wasn’t surprising; until Janet Napolitano’s appointment to the Obama Cabinet elevated Brewer to the governorship, she was Secretary of State of Arizona and thus probably met Handel at association meetings. What’s more interesting is that the endorsement would even matter. Here’s how Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts put it:

Two years ago, many in Arizona’s political establishment rolled their eyes at the idea of Jan Brewer ever becoming governor.

Last year, when then-Gov. Janet Napolitano abandoned this sinking ship to hit the national scene, many in the state’s political establishment gave Brewer virtually no chance of getting elected governor in her own right.

These days, thanks to illegal immigrants, Brewer’s a rock star to the right.

It’s not as though Handel supports Arizona’s law and her primary opponents don’t; the only real controversy among Georgia GOP gubernatorial rivals is about exactly how aggressive state agencies should be in taking over enforcement of federal immigration laws:

Georgia’s Republican gubernatorial candidates all favor a crackdown on illegal immigration, but they can’t agree on how far to take it….

Eric Johnson, Georgia’s state senate pro tempore and one of the seven GOP candidates qualified to run for the state’s top executive position, rolled out his plan for enforcing illegal immigration laws on Friday. Johnson’s plan takes enforcement further than that of any other candidate, mandating the collection of citizenship data from K-12 schools and hospital emergency rooms.

In this atmosphere, a Brewer endorsement, while not quite as powerful as being designated a “Mama Grizzly” by Sarah Palin, is worth a lot to Karen Handel, who is fighting for a runoff spot deploying a true-conservative-versus-the-good-old-boys message highly reminiscent of Nikki Haley’s successful campaign next door in South Carolina (like Haley, Handel is a favorite of conservative bloggers like RedState’s Erick Erickson). If she does manage to win the nomination (and a new Insider Advantage poll, in sharp contrast with prior surveys, shows her suddenly tied with long-time front-runner John Oxendine), the long reach of Arizona immigration politics will receive some of the credit.

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