Immigration No Election Elixir, But It Likely Did Not Hurt GOP

Immigration No Election Elixir, But It Likely Did Not Hurt GOP
By Brian Mitchell
The Investor's Business Daily, November 17, 2006

The ballots were barely in before pundits declared immigration the winner. A tough stand against it failed to save Republicans in several key states, and control of Congress shifted to the pro-immigration Democratic Party.

But a closer look at the winners and losers tells a different story, in which Republican hawks on immigration fared better than GOP moderates.

The success of anti-immigration referendums also suggests hawkish stances might have helped Republicans as much as or more than it hurt them.

'Clearly what didn't happen is the people didn't endorse the amnesty-guest-worker approach of the president,' said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors tough immigration controls.

'When people were voting on the specific issue of immigration control, they overwhelmingly supported it,' he said. 'What happened to particular candidates is a much muddier picture.'

Immigration may be the one issue that the White House and the new Democratic Congress agree on. It's not on the Democrats' list for immediate action, but it could come up later next year.

Immigration advocates cite the defeat of Rep. J.D. Hayworth and Minuteman organizer Randy Graf (to replace Jim Kolbe) in Arizona, Sen. Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania and Senate hopeful Thomas Kean Jr. in New Jersey to argue that tough stands on immigration cost Republicans votes.

'Now that the people have spoken, maybe the Congress will finally listen and pass comprehensive immigration reform,' wrote Linda Chavez in her first post-election syndicated column.

A week later, reform fans had a more nuanced argument: Republicans might not have lost because of immigration, but it wasn't a winning issue either.

'A segment of the Republican Party seemed to believe that this very aggressive anti-immigrant stance was going to be the wedge issue which would keep the control of Congress in Republicans hands, and it was a big flop as that,' Chavez told IBD.

House Republicans bet wrongly that a hard line on immigration would make up for their other ills, said Frank Sharry, president of the National Immigration Forum.

'That's a different point than they lost because of it,' Sharry said. 'They thought that it would bring out the base, win over some Democrats, and that Latinos wouldn't show up. It did turn out some base voters. It didn't sway independents and swing voters . . . and Latinos turned out in record numbers.'

Krikorian doubts that anyone expected so much from one issue.

'Of course immigration's not a silver bullet. I'm not sure who thought it would be,' he said. 'Obviously Iraq and corruption were at the top of people's minds, not the immigration issue.'

Voters Had Other Priorities

Exit polls showed immigration as voters' No. 4 concern after Iraq, terrorism and the economy.

'It wasn't a defining issue of this race,' said John Gay of the National Restaurant Association.

Republicans won just 30% of Latino votes, down 14 points from 2004. As the GOP's take of white voters dropped 6%, about half of the shift in Latino voters may have been because of immigration.

Even so, close-the-border incumbents fared better on average than their open-border colleagues.

The GOP lost 11.5% of its seats in Congress, but the hawkish House Immigration Reform Caucus, headed by Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., lost just 6.7% of its members.

NumbersUSA lobbies for less immigration and grades lawmakers on that issue. It says 25% of those who got F's lost on Nov. 7 vs. just 9.6% of those with A's.

While Arizona voters opposed Hayworth and Graf, they overwhelmingly backed four initiatives that rolled up the state's welcome mat. The ballot measures declared English the state's official language, barred illegal aliens from some state benefits, barred illegals from collecting punitive damages in civil suits, and denied bail to illegals arrested for serious crimes.

Voters in Arizona also re-elected GOP Sen. Jon Kyl, who voted against the comprehensive Senate immigration bill, turning back a challenge from Democrat Jim Pederson, who supported it.

The Kyl camp made much of Pederson's comment that the 1986 amnesty was the 'the last effective measure that passed Congress.'

Reformers Downplayed Issue

Immigration helped make the difference in Illinois' 6th District, where Republican Peter Roskam edged out Democrat Tammy Duckworth to claim the seat being vacated by GOP Rep. Henry Hyde.

Duckworth, an Army veteran who lost both legs in Iraq, backed the Senate bill but lost to Roskam, who campaigned hard against it.

NumbersUSA's Caroline Espinosa noted while some candidates ran boldly against immigration, none ran boldly for it. 'None of the candidates no Republican, Democrat, anybody ran on an open-borders platform,' she said. 'Nobody came out and said, 'Oh, we need an amnesty, we need to legalize 12 million illegal aliens.' '