Immigration activists have had a hard time targeting Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush given his moderate stance on the issue and his family profile.
But then the former Florida governor talked about "anchor babies," a term introduced into the race by Donald Trump and one some see as offensive.
On Tuesday, Bush was the target of a protest by activists outside a town hall event in a Denver suburb. National Democrats also worked to highlight Bush's attempt at clarity a day earlier that only provoked outrage from Asian-American groups.
Bush said he supports the birthright citizenship afforded under the 14th Amendment but there should be closer enforcement to prevent cases in which a mother comes to the United States illegally expressly to have a child.
During a trip to the U.S.-Mexico border on Monday, Bush said increasingly those mothers are from Asian countries. The phenomenon does exist and the federal government has made it a priority in California, targeting so-called birth tourism centers.
Bush was asked about the term during the town hall and said the United States needs to step up border security. But he criticized Trump's solution of building a giant wall as simplistic and too costly.
Bush rebutted critics by pointing to his family — his wife is Mexican-born, and the bilingual Bush has fully embraced Hispanic culture — and his stance on immigration issues.
"My record is pretty clear," he said.
On Monday, Bush seemed annoyed with the constant questioning from reporters, saying, "I think we need to take a step back and chill out a little bit as it relates to the political correctness, that somehow you have to be scolded every time you say something."
The immigration debate comes amid Bush's growing feud with Trump, who is dominating polls. Once content with Trump's ability to keep other Republican rivals from rising up, Bush is now directly challenging Trump.
When Trump held his 30,000-person rally in Mobile, Ala., on Friday, a plane circled overhead with a banner that read "Trump 4 higher taxes. Jeb 4 Prez." It was paid for by the pro-Bush Super PAC.
Bush's campaign also sent an email to people in Alabama raising the specter of Trump's record, including past support for "Democratic ideas."
"When it comes to Donald Trump, we welcome the contrast. Republicans will vote for a proven conservative leader, and that is Jeb Bush," spokeswoman Kristy Campbell said.
Unbowed, Trump ignored his own role in the "anchor babies" issue and mocked Bush on Twitter Tuesday. "In a clumsy move to get out of his 'anchor babies' dilemma . . . he blamed ASIANS."
Republicans have performed dismally among Hispanic and Asian voters in recent presidential elections.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, another Republican running for president, has taken the same stance as Bush on the birthright citizenship but has avoided using the loaded term.