WASHINGTON Two years ago, Sen. Kay Hagan was among five Democrats who joined Republicans to defeat an immigration reform effort.
Now, some of those same Democrats from conservative states could be pivotal to the success of a broader overhaul of the nations immigration laws, political analysts say.
Supporters for immigration feel they can get enough Democrats to pass the bill that would grant a path to citizenship for the nations 11 million illegal immigrants.
But Israel Ortega, editor of the conservative think tank Heritage Foundations Spanish language website, Libertad.org, said it could take only a few reluctant Democrats such as Hagan to wreck the bill.
As an example, he noted the Democrats who joined Senate Republicans two years ago to doom an effort that would have given hundreds of thousands of young illegal immigrants a path to legal status. They would have needed to enroll in college or joined the military.
Besides Hagan of Greensboro, the Democrats included Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Jon Tester and Max Baucus of Montana.
Had all five voted the other way, the bill, known as the Dream Act, would have reached the Senate floor and could have passed by a simple majority. The House had already approved the measure.
Hagan is one of several moderate Democrats facing re-election in 2014 who analysts are closely watching for any signs on how they may vote on this issue. Others include Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Mark Begich of Alaska.
Illegal immigration is a sensitive issue in North Carolina.
Last year, state Republicans put together a special committee on immigration that considered state legislation along the lines of Arizona-like enforcement laws. At the same time, N.C. farmers are growing concerned that they may not have the manpower to pick the sweet potatoes, tobacco, and other crops that make up the states $70 billion agriculture industry.
About 325,000 illegal immigrants live in the state, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
Hagan, who could face a tough re-election, has done her best to straddle the complexities of the emotional issue. She has long said that the Dream Act needed to be part of a comprehensive package.
She supports comprehensive reform that includes stronger border security, visas for high-tech workers, and some kind of agriculture component to help farmers get needed workers.
Shes heard from computer and software companies in North Carolinas Research Triangle Park in the Raleigh-Durham area, who want to hire foreign-born high tech workers trained at UNC Chapel Hill, N.C. State and Duke University. And shes visited with blueberry and sweet potato growers who need labor.
What I hear from my farmers quite often is that we have got to find a workable solution so they can get the workers they need so they can continue growing crops in North Carolina, she said.
But shes noncommittal about whether that also means granting undocumented workers a path to legalization or citizenship.
I oppose amnesty, but a pathway to citizenship can take a lot of different forms, she said. It can look like a lot of different things.
That uncertainty leaves advocates like Gaby Pacheco of Miami nervous. Pacheco, 28, was among a group of young advocates crowded in the galleries above the Senate floor during the 2010 vote. Many wore graduation caps and gowns. They held hands as Senators cast their votes.
It was pure devastation, she said. ..I dont think there was single person not crying that day.
Pacheco said she and other students met with Hagans staff after the vote to share their anger. They plan to keep the pressure on Hagan and other Democrats who they fear could oppose another immigration proposal.
Its not all just bad Republicans and good Democrats, she said.
One of the Democratic leaders of a bipartisan Senate group pushing immigration reform, Charles Schumer of New York, said its too early to worry about how this bill could impact conservative members of the party in the next election.
Look, were trying to come up with a bipartisan bill, he said. Well worry about counting the votes once we have a bill. We still have a ways to go.
Undoubtedly, if the immigration proposal moves forward, there will be pressure on these conservative Democrats to support it. How much pressure will depend on the competition theyre expected to face next year, Duffy said.
A strong challenge from the right and Hagan and other Democrats may be inclined to vote against a proposal that includes a path to citizenship. But if it looks like theyll face little or no competition, Democratic leaders make it tougher for them to say no, Duffy said.
Its all about counting noses and who they need, she said.