The Illegal Immigration Issue And Election 2006

Last night, I was having a discussion with a friend of mine about illegal immigration and he asked a question that you’re going to hear from more people as time goes on. That question was: if illegal immigration is such a big issue, why are Republicans in the House taking such a beating this year given their hard stance on the issue?

There are multiple reasons for it.

#1) The political environment is so bad right now for Republicans, for so many reasons, that no one issue, in and of itself, can turn it around. In other words, taking a tough stance on illegal immigration is helping Republican candidates, but just not enough to make up for everything else.

#2) Because the top two supporters of the amnesty bill in the Senate are George W. Bush and — God help us all — the most prominent Republican Senator, John McCain, we have a mixed message on the issue as a Party. If you’re a Republican politician and you say you’re anti-abortion or anti-gun control, people believe you, because that’s what they expect to hear from Republicans. But, if you’re a Republican politician who says you’re tough on illegal immigration, the average voter takes that with a grain of salt because they know the Party is split on illegal immigration and sure, political wonks may know that the House Republicans have been standing tall on the issue, but the average voter doesn’t follow it closely enough to pick that up.

#3) Because of #2, the Democrats have an opening on illegal immigration, and they’re using it to portray themselves as tough guys. You know it’s funny, spin-meisters keep telling us how popular the comprehensive illegal immigration approach is, but when you actually look at ads that are running in these competitive districts, all you see are two candidates trying to convince everyone that they’re the ones that will crack down the hardest on illegal immigration.

Let me give you a perfect example. J.D. Hayworth is one of the guys who has really fought tooth and nail against illegal immigration in the House. However, he’s in a tougher than expected race for his seat. The latest two polls only show him up by +1 and +3 points. So, does that mean his illegal immigration stance is hurting him? Well, let’s take a look at what’s on top of the web page of his opponent, Harry Mitchell:

“I’m proud to show you the second television spot of our campaign which highlights an important issue to all Arizonan: securing our border and ending illegal immigration.

My opponent likes to talk tough about immigration, but the truth is he and those in Washington have failed in their responsibility to secure our border.

The number of illegal immigrants in our state has increased 400% during his tenure in Congress.

My opponent has rewarded illegal immigration by voting for amnesty four times. Just last month, he voted against 12,000 additional Border Patrol agents and against implementing the border security recommendations of the bi-partisan 9/11 Commission. In his 12 years in Congress, JD has given us a lot of rhetoric, but not a lot of results.”

Now, I’m not going to go into detail refuting what Mitchell says. Suffice it to say that if you want someone who’s tough on illegal immigration, you couldn’t do much better than Hayworth. But, notice what Mitchell is doing here: he’s actually trying to get to Hayworth’s RIGHT on illegal immigration — and that’s typical. Nobody in these districts is running campaign ads bragging that they oppose a fence, want to give Social Security to illegals, and support amnesty. In other words, in almost every competitive race in the country right now, you’re seeing one candidate that’s tough on illegal immigration and another candidate that’s at least pretending to be tough on illegal immigration.

Long story short, because the GOP isn’t united, we couldn’t use illegal immigration as a wedge issue and even though it has probably helped Republicans in a lot of races, the issue alone isn’t enough to overcome the wind blowing in our face this year.

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