Tea Partiers Stand by Rand Paul Despite Immigration Conversion

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Rand Paul's new immigration proposal -- which includes backing a pathway to citizenship -- doesn't seem to have changed Tea Partiers' opinion of him.

Instead, the Tea Party faithful say it is an example of his forthrightness as well as their own openness to reform.

Sal Russo, founder of the Tea Party Express, called Paul a "favorite of the group," and despite the movement's focus on the national debt, spending and economic issues, he praised Paul's "willingness to stand up and take a principled stand" on immigration.

Russo compared the Kentucky senator to Ronald Reagan.

"A lot of people voted for Reagan that didn't agree with him on everything, but he spoke boldly," he said.  "That's what we are sort of applauding with Rand Paul…It's refreshing to have someone raise an issue in a clear and unambiguous way.  We think it needs to happen on the fiscal issues."

The Tea Party has largely opposed legalizing undocumented aliens or granting them citizenship, but Russo applauds Paul's immigration proposal.

"I think the immigration issue is an important issue and Republicans have looked like they have their head in the sand and are not being serious about addressing a problem," he said.

"People are in this country a long time and they are not legal.  We have to get them legal in some way in a process that gets people legal that are here…We should do it because it's the right thing.  We need to reform immigration because we need a system that works," Russo continued.

Matt Kibbe, the president and CEO of Tea Party ally FreedomWorks, said he does not think Paul's immigration announcement hurts his potential 2016 presidential aspirations.

"I think he's sort of risen to the top of the GOP ladder simply by putting ideas back on the table," Kibbe said, referring to both the filibuster and his budget plan.  "All of these ideas that most Republicans pay lip service to, he's putting specifics on the table.  It's a calculated risk taking that puts him ahead of his other potential primary opponents for 2016."

Kibbe said immigration is not an issue FreedomWorks champions and said proposing citizenship for undocumented aliens is a "calculated risk," and would be "risky water for anyone," but said Paul's proposal is in the "framework of our principals."

"We believe in the rule of law," Kibbe said.  "Treat everyone just like everybody else, but we believe if you want to come to this country and work the government has a responsibility to make the process as efficient as possible."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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