"The reason Republicans aren't taking on illegal immigration like they used to is there's no benefit in it," Quinn said. "The smart Republicans have figured out that Latinos are moving into the middle class very rapidly and are fundamentally conservative on economic issues. There is a lot of growing wealth in Latino and Asian communities. So there's caution that this is a major voting bloc and one that Republicans want to get a piece of."
But the story is far different in Arizona.
Latinos make up 30% of the state's population but make up just 11.7% of the electorate, according to 2008 census data. Whites constitute 78% of voters, and they tend to be more conservative than their California counterparts.
Lisa Magana, an associate professor of trans-border studies at Arizona State University, said many of those voters have a "libertarian, Old West mentality" and strongly support Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a controversial critic of illegal immigration.
Without many liberal and moderate white, Asian and African American allies to join with Latinos, as occurred in California, it will be hard to transform Arizona's immigration politics, DeSipio said.
The state is firmly controlled by Republicans, and the Democratic Party is weaker than California's was in the 1990s, analysts say. Some politicians argue that gerrymandering has made it hard to oust state legislators who have been the source of much of the hard-line laws.
"Even though voter outrage can be significant, it's hard for that to be reflected in state legislative districts," said state Rep. Daniel Patterson, a Democrat who represents an immigrant-heavy district in Tucson.
Arizona Latinos also lack the long history of activism experienced in California, the same degree of heavyweight ethnic and immigrant rights organizations and such iconic Latino leaders as union leader Cesar Chavez and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
Ricardo Ramirez, USC assistant professor of political science, said that with foundation money drying up, smaller organizations in places like Arizona are hard-pressed to attract support to register voters and organize around actions.
Reza added that Arizona Latinos don't have the same "activist consciousness" found in California. Many of them are second- and third-generation Americans who are deeply assimilated, do not speak fluent Spanish and have mixed feelings toward their immigrant brethren, he said.
Two-thirds of Arizona Latinos are American-born, and 47% of them supported a 2006 state initiative that required proof of citizenship to register to vote -- a measure that immigrant activists bill as the toughest voting law in the nation.
"In Arizona, there are very few people who are willing and able to struggle for the rights of Latinos like in California," Reza said.
Pearce and other hardliners regularly cite the support of Latinos for the 2006 initiative as evidence that their crackdown is not motivated by racial animus and won't spark a reaction similar to the one in California. "This is not a race issue," Pearce said. "This is a respect-for-law-and-order issue."
But over time, as Latinos become a larger part of the electorate, the politics will probably change, Magana and others say.
When that happens, Arizona legislators will have to walk a fine line between appealing to their mostly white Republican base while not alienating their future Latino constituents, she said. "It's a really hard dance."
Watanabe and Gorman reported from Los Angeles, Riccardi from Phoenix.