At first blush, the Supreme Court ruling striking down much of the Arizona immigration law appeared to be a blow to Republicans — who had touted the law as a model for state enforcement efforts.
But several GOP strategists said Monday that the ruling could nevertheless redound to Mitt Romney's benefit in the presidential race.
The ruling, they said, provides Romney a critical opportunity to highlight the Obama administration's “poor handling” of illegal immigration. Analysts suggested Arizona's ongoing struggle to enforce its own immigration law could help feed the narrative that the federal government needs to step in with a better approach — an approach Romney, who recently outlined his immigration plan, claims to be offering.
"[Romney] should come out and say the president created a constitutional crisis on immigration,” said Brad Blakeman, former deputy assistant to President George W. Bush and a public policy professor at Georgetown University said. “The Supreme Court basically said that federal law trumps state law, but the fact of the matter is federal law is not being enforced."
Romney should use the ruling to definitely state that Obama should have worked in a more bipartisan matter to create a “fair, just and equitable comprehensive policy,” Blakeman said.
“I think it’s going to help him,” Blakeman said of the ruling as it pertains to the likely Republican nominee. “But Romney has got to tell the American people that this president created a constitutional crisis when he should’ve been leaded to avoid one with both houses of Congress.”
Obama, for his part, argues that Republicans have persistently blocked reforms to the immigration system. In a heated address to Latino officials in Florida last week, the president said "politics" got in the way of passing the DREAM Act — which would have let some illegal immigrants who came here as children stay. Obama has since instituted a similar policy administratively.
Other political strategists, meanwhile, said the ruling will give Romney a chance to appeal to his supporters, but that it likely won’t be a key issue in the general election.
“I don’t think it’s going to get him any net advantage. The electoral impact of this is going to be relatively minor,” said Don Fowler, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Fowler said supporters of the Obama administration, which sued to block the Arizona law soon after its enactment two year ago, will be inclined to continue supporting Obama despite Monday's ruling. Conversely, he said, those who back Romney will continue to do so, saying the country is largely split on the issue of illegal immigration.
Ben Golnik, a Republican strategist based in Minnesota, said Monday’s “split decision” gives Republicans ammunition to bolster claims that the Obama administration has poorly handled national immigration issues and has a weak record on border security.
“It gives him an opportunity to clearly spell out his views on immigration and what kind of reforms he sees necessary,” Golnik said. “It’ll be an issue for those who have immigration at the top of their list, but the reality is it’s mostly about the economy.”
Romney, in a statement issued after Monday’s ruling, appeared to follow the strategists' advice.
“President Obama has failed to provide any leadership on immigration,” the statement read. “This represents yet another broken promise by this President. I believe that each state has the duty — and the right — to secure our borders and preserve the rule of law, particularly when the federal government has failed to meet its responsibilities. As Candidate Obama, he promised to present an immigration plan during his first year in office. But four years later, we are still waiting.”
Obama said the decision “makes unmistakably” clear that Congress must act on comprehensive immigration reform.
“A patchwork of state laws is not a solution to our broken immigration system — it's part of the problem,” the statement read. “At the same time, I remain concerned about the practical impact of the remaining provision of the Arizona law that requires local law enforcement officials to check the immigration status of anyone they even suspect to be here illegally.”
Monday's decision upheld one provision of Arizona's law — requiring law enforcement to check immigration status during routine stops for those they suspect may be in the country illegally. But the ruling struck down three other provisions, one of which allowed Arizona's law enforcement to arrest those they think might be guilty of a deportable offense.
Other analysts contacted by FoxNews.com, including former South Carolina GOP chairman Van Hipp, Jr., said Romney should now focus on the national security aspects of securing the border.
“Romney needs to remind American people why he supports securing our southern border,” Hipp said. “His campaign has to keep his message focused on national security. He has early on, but now more than ever, it brings immigration to the forefront so it’s incumbent upon Romney to get out in front of thing and not allow it to be buried in the weeds.”