Immigration reform with a guest worker program is on track for being one of the most important issues in 2007 — in part because the anti-immigration candidates were beaten, across the country.
The National Immigration Forum, a pro-immigration organization, analyzed the elections results where a Senate, House or gubernatorial candidate voiced anti-immigration positions. Its assessment: “First and foremost, [the electorate] defied the pre-election conventional wisdom that had immigration emerging as the wedge issue that would help the Republicans either limit their losses or even retain control of the House of Representatives. Candidates that backed broad and practical reforms performed much better than candidates who espoused a hard enforcement-only or enforcement-first position.”
Perhaps the sentinel event was the defeat of a strenuously ani-immigration candidate in AZ. “In Arizona-8 Republican Randy Graf lost to Democrat Gabrielle Giffords by 54% – 42%. This was a closely watched race for a toss up district along the U.S.-Mexico border in a state in which immigration is the number one issue. Graf made the prophetic statement, “If this issue can’t be won in this district [by hard-liners], the argument can be made that it can’t be won anywhere in the country.”
Further xcerpts from the Forum’s analysis…
What a difference an election makes. After all the pre-election prognostication and campaign mudslinging, the pundits and operatives are forced to step back, quiet down, and listen closely to the voters. Spin yields to facts as election results, exit polling, and seat counts offer up statistical evidence of voters’ views and demands.
With respect to immigration, this has been an extraordinary election cycle. Never before in our lifetimes has immigration emerged as a major factor in an election. In the past, immigration has affected a few primaries and maybe a handful of races, at most. But in this election, immigration roiled hundreds of campaigns across the country and at all levels. Why? In part, it is because fixing our nation’s broken immigration system has emerged as a top tier policy priority for the American people. And in part, it is because the current Congress stalemated over broad reform, and, in effect, kicked the issue to the voters.
So, what did the voters say about immigration in these mid-terms?
First and foremost, they defied the pre-election conventional wisdom that had immigration emerging as the wedge issue that would help the Republicans either limit their losses or even retain control of the House of Representatives. Candidates that backed broad and practical reforms performed much better than candidates who espoused a hard enforcement-only or enforcement-first position.
Secondly, through pre-election and exit polls, voters soundly rejected the siren song of enforcement-only pabulum in favor of a pragmatic comprehensive approach to immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for those working and living in the U.S. illegally.
Finally, Latino voters made it clear that immigration is a defining issue for the fastest growing group of new voters in the nation, and that those who adopt a hard line will be met with a hard response.
Throughout most of the past year, many commentators argued that immigration would prove to be “the gay marriage issue of ’06.”
Many candidates followed this logic, either out of opportunism or conviction. How did they fare?
Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) hit opponent Bob Casey early and late for Casey’s support for the Senate comprehensive bill passed on a bipartisan basis last May. Santorum suffered the biggest defeat of any Senate incumbent in this election cycle, losing by 18%.
Katherine Harris repeatedly invoked Senator Bill Nelson’s (D-FL) support for the Senate bill in her comeback attempt. She lost 60% – 38%.
Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) was attacked by his opponent, Tom Kean, Jr. (R) for the Senator’s support of comprehensive immigration reform. He won going way, 53% -47%.
Senators Cantwell (D-WA) and Stabenow (D-MI) were attacked for their votes in support of allowing legalized immigrant workers to claim credit for social security taxes paid when they had been undocumented. Both won easily.
Senator Carper (D-DE) was opposed by a one-issue candidate, former INS official and noted immigration restrictionist Jan Ting. Accused of supporting “amnesty,” Carper won 70% – 29%.
In Arizona-8 Republican Randy Graf lost to Democrat Gabrielle Giffords by 54% – 42%. This was a closely watched race for a toss up district along the U.S.-Mexico border in a state in which immigration is the number one issue. Graf made the prophetic statement, “If this issue can’t be won in this district [by hard-liners], the argument can be made that it can’t be won anywhere in the country.”
In Indiana-8, House Immigration Subcommittee Chair John Hostettler (R-IN) was one of the featured Republicans in the summer “field hearings” held by House Republicans to stir up voters on the immigration issue. He lost by a wide margin.
In Arizona-5 hard liner J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ) is the author of the book “Whatever It Takes” about illegal immigration, and refused to vote for HR 4437, the controversial Sensenbrenner bill, because he thought it did not go far enough. Hayworth was upset by comprehensive reform advocate Harry Mitchell 51% – 46%. Two years earlier Hayworth won re-election by 21 points.
In Colorado-7, the race featured hard liner Republican Rick O’Donnell trying to replace another Republican, Bob Beauprez who vacated the seat to run for governor. O’Donnell was featured in a front page New York Times article arguing that immigration was the biggest issue in his district and that his views were much more popular than those of his comprehensive reform advocate opponent, Democrat Ed Perlmutter. Perlmutter won 54% – 42%.
In Arizona incumbent and Democrat Janet Napolitano, an early proponent of comprehensive immigration reform, was attacked repeatedly by her opponent Len Munsil for being soft on illegal immigration. He proposed a half a billion dollar border security initiative as his signature issue. Napolitano won 63% – 35%.
In Colorado Republican Bob Beauprez staked his campaign on attacking his Democratic opponent, Bill Ritter, for being soft on illegal immigration. He lost 56% – 41%.
In numerous states Democratic incumbents and candidates came under fire from their opponents for being soft on illegal immigration and for supporting in-state tuition for undocumented students. In every case – Kansas, Oklahoma, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Oregon, and Maryland – the pro-immigrant candidate won and the attacker lost.
In California, Arnold Schwarzenegger took a different tack from many in his party. He moved to the center on immigration: he stopped applauding the Minutemen, he apologized for his support of Proposition 187 in the past, he dragged his feet on approving the deployment of his state’s National Guard for border duty, and loudly criticized the Republican Congress for not moving on comprehensive immigration reform. He was rewarded with a huge victory that included 39% of the state’s large group of Latino voters.