Thursday, November 08, 2007

2007 General Election: Impact of Immigration

In the 2007 election cycle in Virginia, the results show unequivocally that the issue of illegal immigration did not move voters and that immigrant bashing is not an effective campaign tactic in Virginia, regardless of party.

All across the state, party loyalty, and local issues other than immigration, most often determined the outcomes of hotly contested state legislative and local county and school board races.

Examples that prove the point include:
1) Senator Emmet Hanger (R Augusta) won a hotly contested Republican primary in June during which he was attacked repeatedly for his sponsorship of a bill that would have given a small number of taxpaying undocumented students the opportunity to qualify for in-state tuition. Hanger won the primary 53.01% to 46.98% and went on to win the General Election with over 65% of the vote in a three way contest.

2) Senator Roscoe Reynolds (D Henry) won a bitterly contested general election campaign in which his support for Senator Hanger's bill and his vote against mandating that the Governor enter into a statewide 287g agreement were key focal points in his opponent's campaign. Reynolds margin of victory was 62.84% to 37.19%, a four point change from his win in 2003 in a decidedly less spirited contest which he won 67% to 33%.

3) Even in Prince William County, ground zero for the anti-illegal immigrant movement in Virginia, Senator Chuck Colgan (D Manassas) was reelected by a vote of 54.09% to 45.76% despite his vote for Senator Hanger's in-state tuition bill and accusations that he was soft on illegal immigration. Colgan's margin of victory in 2007 was nearly unchanged from 2003 when he won 54.68% go 45.32%. Prince William Democratic House candidates who chose to try to out do the Republicans by setting out a 10 point plan to crack down on illegal immigration or attacking their opponents for being "soft" on immigration got no benefit from their effort. Three of their targets, Delegate Jackson Miller, Delegate Jeff Frederick and Delegate Bob Marshall only increased their margins of victory seven, six and six points respectively over their election totals in 2006 and 2005.

4) In a Republican leaning district that spans several counties in the fast-growing Fredericksburg area, Senator Edd Houck (D Spotsylvania) won reelection by a vote of 55.95% to 43.95% over a candidate Chris Yakabouski, chair of the Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisor's whose campaign website described him as "leading the fight against illegal immigration." Houck's margin of victory in 2003 was 59.25% to 40.68%.

5) In a district that supported George Allen over Jim Webb in 2006 by significant margins, Albert Pollard nearly beat Richard Stuart despite Stuart's one-note campaign that attacked Pollard for not being strong enough in his opposition to illegal immigration and for his votes on higher education bills. The election ended in a near dead heat, 50.63% to 49.22%, with Stuart's win dependent on his significant margin in Stafford County where he won 57.44% to 42.31%, margins similar to those enjoyed by Allen in the US Senate race against Jim Webb (55.12% to 43.09%) and where the so-called marriage amendment which Pollard voted against while in the House of Delegates passed by a margin of 64.48% to 35.52%.

6) In Tidewater, where anti-tax candidate Tricia Stahl (R) tried to use immigration to beat John Miller (D) in a Republican district considered out of play until Stahl beat incumbent Marty Williams in a June primary, Miller won convincingly by a margin of 51.01% to 48.63%. Also in Tidewater, Ralph Northam (D) defeated incumbent Senator Nick Rerras (R)(Norfolk) by a vote of 54.37% to 45.57% and Delegate Paula Miller (D)(Norfolk) was reelected 54.13% to 45.86% despite campaigns in which their opponents focused heavily on illegal immigration. Miller's margin exceeded her margin in 2005 when she was elected with 50.27% of the vote in a three-way race.

7) Local races also showed the lack of meaningful influence of the immigration issue. In Loudoun County and Chesterfield County where much has been made of "studying" the costs of illegal immigration and incumbents called for the adoption of measures similar to those adopted in Prince William, a majority of the county board incumbents were defeated in their re-election bids, largely by candidates who ran against the incumbent's pro-growth policies which are at the heart of many of the issues for which immigrants have become the convenient scapegoats (e.g., over crowded schools). One surprising election in Chesterfield was the defeat of an incumbent School Board member by a minority candidate. There is now one minority member on the School Board and one on Chesterfield's board of supervisors in a County that is now more than a quarter minority.

Political Lessons
The bottom line, according to Celinda Lake and Peter Brodnitz and other national analysts on a conference call yesterday sponsored by Immigration 2007, is that candidates who “lean into the issue,” i.e., engage on it rather than duck and cover, can be elected on a comprehensive immigration reform platform that is measured and focused on practical responses to real problems (e.g., Gerry Connally’s platform in Fairfax which carried him to reelection by a substantial margin).

The key for candidates is to communicate actively to voters that they have a positive plan to address immigration. The plan must be comprehensive and include securing our borders and enforcing our laws, particularly in the workplace, and, then, it can address future flow of immigrants and the creation of a path to earned legalization for those already here.

Sage advice from Morton Kondrake in his column in the November 8th issue of Roll Call:

For the umpteenth time, American voters this year have rejected a nativist approach to illegal immigration. It ought to be a warning to Republicans: Don’t make this your 2008 wedge issue.
Election results on Tuesday, especially in Virginia and New York state, also should encourage nervous Democrats that they can support comprehensive immigration reform — stronger enforcement plus earned legalization — and prevail.
Polling on immigration consistently shows that large majorities of Americans — two-thirds, in a September ABC survey — believe the U.S. is not doing enough to curb illegal immigration, but that almost as many, 58 percent in that poll, support allowing illegal immigrants to earn their way to legal status.
In The Wall Street Journal last month, conservative think tank president Richard Nadler wrote that his study of 145 majority-Hispanic precincts showed that “immigration policies that induce mass fear among illegal residents will induce mass anger among the legal residents who share their heritage.”
Despite all that evidence, House GOP leaders have staged vote after vote on amendments designed to restrict benefits to illegal immigrants — even where the law already restricts them — and Senate Republicans led the way, joined by nine Democrats, in filibustering the DREAM Act, which would have allowed young people brought to the U.S. by illegal immigrants to earn citizenship.

If Republicans want to destroy their future prospects in increasingly Hispanic, once-Republican states like Colorado, Florida, New Mexico, Nevada and Arizona, it’s their option. But the process could be very nasty.

1 comment:

Mike K said...

Hate to say it, but if only the democrats had been burned by trying to make this issue theirs, then they'd learn to stay away from it in future cycles. Unfortunately, because they made it a component, albeit understated and defensive, some will likely attribute their victory to that stance.