Most of the political news in the last couple of weeks has revolved around the issue of illegal immigration — an issue I’ll admit that I was skeptical about. My skepticism stems from the fact that I wasn’t sure that the issue was as big of a deal as it was made out to be, not from a policy standpoint but from a political standpoint. Do Coloradoans really think this is the most important issue of 2006?

Apparently they do.

Yesterday The Denver Post ran a front page article outlining a poll done for them by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research. The poll of 625 registered and likely voters showed that illegal immigration is the number one issue facing Colorado today, and it’s not even close. Some 39 percent of those polled think illegal immigration is the most important issue facing Colorado, with the second-place issue (economy/jobs/development) polling at a distant 15 percent.

I’m surprised that illegal immigration is polling as well as it is, although the constant media attention paid to the issue certainly makes a difference. Political candidates often use this sort of timeline in their own polling — they’ll run TV ads or send out direct mail, and then poll immediately afterwards, with the intent of coming up with good polling numbers. I don’t think at all that this is what The Post was doing here, but in many ways the result was probably the same. The Post poll was conducted last Wednesday and Thursday after a weeklong barrage of news surrounding illegal immigration.

Republicans obviously thought that illegal immigration was an issue that would play well for them in November, which is why they tried so hard to get an initiative on the ballot to restrict services to illegal immigrants (probably assuming that it would help turn out their base of voters). But I’ve said in this space before that Republicans mishandled the special session on illegal immigration; the GOP got stuck in a situation where Democrats ended up passing a bunch of bills that they touted as the “toughest reforms in the country,” which included crackdowns on employers for hiring illegal immigrants (something Republicans didn’t want). While I thought that Democrats clearly won that battle with Republicans, it was hard to tell if voters were really paying attention to everything that went on.

Apparently they were.

The polling data released by the Post also shows that 22 percent of voters thought Democrats in the legislature better handled the issue of illegal immigration, compared to just 11 percent who thought that Republicans came out ahead. Furthermore, roughly 65 percent of voters like the idea of going after the employers of illegal immigrants as a way to help solve the problem.

Republicans thought they had a silver bullet for the 2006 election in the form of illegal immigration, and it looks like they were correct.

Too bad they shot themselves in the foot with it.