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2012 Election Scorecard: Ranks of Immigration Reformers Grow in Congress

by Pili Tobar on 11/27/2012 at 4:05pm

Editor’s Note: We’ve updated our House and Senate Races to Watch reports! Please check them out here:


In the lead up to November 6th, America’s Voice tracked a range of competitive House and Senate races where Latino, Asian, and naturalized citizen voters could prove decisive.  A new post-election scorecard from America’s Voice documents how the immigration issue played out in several House and Senate races across the country.  There you will find recaps of the House and Senate races America’s Voice monitored throughout the 2012 cycle, including relevant demographic information, a description of the role immigration played in the campaign, and an updated information on each race’s outcome as well as analysis about what the results mean moving forward.

In six Senate races America’s Voice identified as Races to Watch for Supporters of Immigration Reform in the election, supporters and champions of immigrant rights won four —and there are already signs that the two winners who opposed reform may be changing their positions.  In fifteen House races America’s Voice identified as Races to Watch for Supporters of Immigration Reform, supporters and champions of immigrant rights won ten, growing the ranks of pro-immigration reform lawmakers in the House.  While five races were won by anti-reform politicians, the demographic writing is on the wall for them and their party.  Get right on immigration reform and expand support from Latinos in future elections, or get ready for a forced retirement.

The America’s Voice scorecard includes analysis on the following races:

ARIZONA: Latino Voters Deliver in 2012, Offer Warning Sign for GOP in 2014 and 2016 Cycles.  

In Arizona in 2012, the increasing size and influence of the state’s Latino voting electorate tipped a key House race towards the Democrats and made a Senate race that was assumed to be safe for Republicans early this cycle into a closely-watched and competitive race.    In the Senate contest, Arizona’s Jeff Flake used to be a true champion of comprehensive immigration reform—but when running for Arizona’s open Senate seat against Democrat Richard Carmona, Flake toed his party’s anti-immigrant line, even going so far as to vote against the DREAM Act in 2010.  While Carmona was more consistent on the issue, Flake has the potential to be a leader if he returns to his roots.  On the House side, in a race that was tagged before the election as  “the state’s most competitive,” Democrat Krysten Sinema, a longtime champion of immigrants’ rights in the state legislature, was declared the winner in Arizona’s 9th District over her Republican opponent Vernon Parker, a supporter of infamous anti-immigrant Sheriff Joe Arpaio.  As a result of the way Latinos are reshuffling the state’s political map – largely because of Republican association with anti-immigrant policies – former Senator Norm Coleman said that “Soon we are going to have to start worrying about Texas and Arizona.”

Outcome of Key Races:

CALIFORNIA: A Win for Immigrant Champions and A Cautionary Tale for the National GOP

Since the days of Proposition 187 in 1994, California’s Latino and Asian-American voters have led the way in rejecting anti-immigrant candidates. Latino voters throughout California preferred Democrats over Republicans in 2012 congressional races by an overwhelming 80%-20% margin, according to election-eve polling of Latino voters in California conducted by Latino Decisions.   In California, it’s clear that anti-immigrant Republicans who did not keep pace with the changing demographics of their district are either retiring, such as Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-CA), or being retired, as happened to Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-CA), Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-CA), and Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA) in 2012.  The remaining Republicans in the California delegation – especially those like Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA) who eked out narrow victories in 2012 – can expect similar fates in future election cycles if they refuse to evolve on immigration.  Let the losses of Bilbray, Mack, and Lungren serve as just a few of the cautionary tales coming out of 2012 about the changing nature of immigration politics going forward.

Outcome of Key Races:

COLORADO: Growing Latino Voter Population Leads to Close House Race in a Formerly Safe Seat

Colorado’s 6th Congressional District was Tancredo Country for ten years, but the times they are a-changing.  After winning by healthy margins in 2008 and 2010, Rep. Mike Coffman (R) faced a tough re-election campaign in 2012 due to a changing district and his own inability (or unwillingness) to adapt.  Coffman’s challenger, state representative Joe Miklosi, was a strong advocate of Colorado ASSET, a bill that would provide reduced-rate tuition to undocumented youth living in the state (the same students the DREAM Act would provide with legal status).   While Coffman managed to hang on for one more term (by the smallest margin of any Congressional race in the state), Republicans in Colorado shouldn’t take comfort from the close victory — one election doesn’t stop lasting demographic change.

Outcome of Key Races:       

FLORIDA: No Longer a Traditionally Conservative State, Latino Voters Deliver Key House and Senate Victories for Democrats

While Florida’s Latino community has leaned Republican for decades, the Latino electorate is changing and becoming more Democratic.  Perhaps that is why Florida Governor Rick Scott engaged in an unprecedented partisan attack on the voting rights of certain citizens, including Latinos, in 2012.  While Scott’s efforts caused voters great inconvenience and long lines at the polls, it didn’t manage to deter African-American and Latino turnout enough to save Republican Senate nominee, Rep. Connie Mack IV, a former moderate on immigration turned hardliner, or the extremist Republicans running in the House including Rep. Allen West and Adam Hasner.

Outcome of Key Races:       

ILLINOIS: Extremism on Immigration Proved to be a Big Loser in Key Illinois House Race

Republican Rep. Joe Walsh (IL-8) is perhaps best known for spending much of his short tenure in Congress promoting fear and hate against American Muslims by stirring up the specter of “radical Islam” in American suburbs.  The Hill called him a “brash, conservative freshman” soon to be a “one-hit-House-member-wonder”—and their prediction was borne out when he was handily defeated by Democratic challenger Tammy Duckworth.  After President Obama announced his deferred action policy for DREAMers, Walsh called him a “tyrant.”  Walsh also backed Herman Cain’s offhand proposal to “build a moat with alligators in order to secure our borders,” and supported Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX)’s recent plan to get rid of diversity visas.  Duckworth, on the other hand, eased her way to victory on an immigration platform in support of comprehensive immigration reform and the DREAM Act.

Outcome of Key Race:

IOWA: Longtime Anti-Immigrant Leader Faces Toughest Re-Election to Date

In Iowa’s new 4th Congressional District, five-term Congressman and Vice Chair of the House Immigration Subcommittee Steve King (R) faced off against former Iowa First Lady Christie Vilsack (D) in the Congressman’s first competitive race since his election to the House of Representatives in 2002.   King is one of the most strident anti-immigrant voices in Congress: he has compared immigrants to dogs and then said it was a “compliment,” threatened to sue President Obama to stop his DREAMer deferred action program, and called immigration a “slow motion Holocaust.”  Vilsack’s campaign called King out for his extreme and inhumane rhetoric on immigration and other issues, and her appeal to Iowan values struck a chord with the district’s voters.  While King was ultimately able to hold off Vilsack, his margin of re-election was the smallest since he arrived in Congress.

Outcome of Key Race:

MASSACHUSETTS: Emerging Latino Population Propels Elizabeth Warren to Victory

As a Republican in Massachusetts, Scott Brown portrayed himself as a moderate. But when it came to the issue of immigration, he was a hard-liner, voting in support of the Republican fillbuster of the DREAM Act in 2010 and criticizing the President for his bold DREAM relief policy.  Senator-elect Warren’s views on immigration are at the opposite—welcoming—end of the spectrum. She supports the DREAM Act, supports the President’s administrative policy on DREAMers, and believes that Brown’s vote against DREAM in 2010 was a mistake that “denied the dreams of these young people” and “cost our communities and our country.”  According to demographers Ruy Teixeira and William Frey, in Massachusetts, Latinos comprise 7.2% of the state’s population of eligible voters—a 98% increase between 2000 and 2010. These voters supported Warren overwhelmingly, helping her to victory in November, and restoring an immigrant champion to a seat long held by the late Senator Ted Kennedy.

Outcome of Key Race:

NEVADA: Nevada Latinos Secure the State for Obama, Keep the Margins Close in Senate and Key House Races

On top of the candidates’ own campaigns, Latinos in Nevada were targeted by grassroots efforts to mobilize them to vote—and Astroturfed efforts to keep them from the polls.  Latinos in Nevada demonstrated their commitment to their civic rights by turning out in large numbers, and their overwhelming support for Democrat Rep. Shelley Berkley as well as the respective Democratic candidates in their districts showed they couldn’t be fooled by “outreach” that hid an anti-immigrant record. While the Latino vote wasn’t enough to overcome Berkley’s weakness elsewhere or defeat Nevada’s newly drawn and safely Republican 3rd Congressional district, Nevada Latinos’ role in securing the state for President Obama in the presidential race should be enough to persuade Dean Heller and Rep. Joe Heck (R) that next time they’re up for re-election, he had better have more than a softly-lit ad on hand to appeal to Latino voters.

Outcome of Key Races:

NEW MEXICO: Immigrant Leader Rides Wave of Latino Support and Secures Path to Victory

New Mexico as a state has the single highest percentage of Latino voters in the nation—four out of ten eligible voters there are Latino.  In the election to replace retiring Democratic Senator Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico voters had a choice between a pro-immigration reform, pro-DREAM Act champion and a candidate who had backed away from support of pro-immigrant positions.  Senator-elect Martin Heinrich (D) led an effort to ensure that the DREAM Act would be included in the Democrats’ national platform, and on August 15th, the first day that DREAMers could apply for President Obama’s new deferred action policy, Heinrich put up a page on his House website encouraging them to call his office for help with their applications.  Former Rep. Heather Wilson (R)—whom Heinrich replaced in the House—co-sponsored a version of the DREAM Act in 2003 but moved to the right in her final years in the House, apparently in preparation for a tough primary battle in her first Senate campaign in 2008.  While the race was initially expected to be close, in the months leading up to the election it became clear that Heinrich had the edge and would win the election—not least because of his support from Latinos.

Outcome of Key Race:

TEXAS: Latino vs. Latino Battle Serves as a Cautionary Tale for the GOP in Traditionally Red State   

Texas’ 23rd District was home to one of the closest races this election cycle.  The Latino vs. Latino battle between incumbent Rep. Francisco “Quico” Canseco (R) and state Rep. Pete Gallego (D) was a true test of Hispanic power both at the podium and in the voting booth—and the results showed that Texas Latinos are increasing their voter clout and their support for Democrats.  According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 66% of the district is populated by Latinos, with 48% speaking Spanish at home.  While incumbent Rep. Francisco Canseco (R) held hardline stances on immigration policy in the past, he remained quiet on the issue during the campaign.  His democratic challenger, Pete Gallego, on the other hand, has been a strong supporter of the DREAM Act as well as the President’s new deferred action policy.  With Gallego defeating Canseco in one of the bigger wins for House Democrats of the election, it is clear that the candidates’ stark immigration differences weighed on the minds of Latino voters.

Outcome of Key Race:

VIRGINIA: Immigrant Voters Prove Decisive in Kaine Victory over Allen

Although Latino voters only make up 3.1% of Virginia’s eligible voters, every vote matters here.  According to Latino Decisions, between 2000 and 2010, the number of Latino voters in Virginia grew by 76%.  Both the U.S. Senate and the Presidential race were very close—but in both cases, the Democrats came out ahead, thanks to support from Latino voters as well as African-American and Asian voters.  As Univision points out, 36% of Virginia Latino voters are naturalized citizens who have personally navigated the complicated immigration system.  For them, the contrast between Senator-elect Tim Kaine—a longtime and vocal supporter of immigration reform– and former Senator George Allen—a harsh critic of President Obama’s DREAMer relief policy– couldn’t have been clearer.

Outcome of Key Race:

 

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