Meg Whitman had just finished delivering her campaign stump speech for an El Dorado Hills audience several months ago when she asked for questions from the crowd.
Two words, phrased as a statement, were the first to pop from the audience of about 30 people: "Illegal aliens."
The Republican gubernatorial hopeful didn't miss a beat, promising to get tough on employers of such immigrants and otherwise stop the influx.
That scene has played out countless times on the campaign trail this year, where illegal immigration has remained a hot topic for many state Republicans, even as — or perhaps because — unemployment and other economic worries have grown.
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Republican candidates have responded by staking out tough positions on the subject, and Whitman rival Steve Poizner, in particular, has built much of his campaign on pledging to cut state services for all illegal immigrants.
"My view is we should not have any magnets left," Poizner said last month at the state Republican convention. "We should turn off all incentives. We should end all taxpayer benefits for people here illegally."
That illegal immigration has stayed in the spotlight 16 years after state voters voted to do exactly what Poizner was suggesting wasn't a surprise for Jon Fleischman, who's the vice chairman of the state GOP's southern branch and a popular blogger.
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