On Friday morning, local radio host Chris Stigall had on Arizona Senator John McCain. During the interview, Stigall asked McCain about immigration, to which the Senator responded with his newly-professed support for tougher border and interior enforcement without (immediate) legalization.
Stigall then set McCain up perfectly on the Senator's 'strongest' issue, asking if he was heartened, given his courageous military past, by the VFW's support for the Iraq surge. McCain responded by first reiterating his firm support for tougher immigration enforcement and opposition to "rewarding lawbreakers". He closed on immigration by saying, "I promise you that." This as Chris mentioned they were running up against a break. Stigall lobbed him a softball but he didn't swing, too focused on the issue of immigration.
McCain's Presidential campaign is finished. He's the most publicly influential Senator both in supporting an increased US presence in Iraq and in supporting open borders (if not second to Ted Kennedy in the latter case), positions the public strongly opposes. These two strikes are followed by a third--he's too old. He's fallen into a distant fourth in GOP Presidential polling, and he's even less popular among politically-engaged primary voters. His staff has been remade in desparation, the same desparation from which this disengenuous emphasis on immigration restriction has been made.
But that he would grasp at tougher immigration policies in trying to keep himself afloat is a testament not only to the salience of the issue at the grassroots level, but also of the influence of 'second tier' pro-sovereignty candidates like Tom Tancredo. Duncan Hunter and Ron Paul may not have the name recognition of Giuliani or McCain, but they're forcing the frontrunners to move swiftly to the popular positions they take, lest those frontrunners allow themselves to be meaningfully contrasted with the rest of the contenders.
Contrasted in the view of the general public, anyway. In the eyes of the discerning public, Tancredo, Hunter, and Paul (in that order of succession) are the restrictionist movement's champions, while McCain and Brownback have been its most steadfast antagonists. Written off before the campaign began, the three restrictionists continue in their roles as gadflies, while the latter two have been the two most 'surprising' early flops in the race.