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As we all know, the immigration issue is here to stay. Candidates can no longer duck and hide from the debate and election results will be largely affected by what was and was not said about the issue during the campaign.
For far too long, politicians have avoided the conversation, believing that no comment was the low risk strategy. But that strategy is failing Democrats, and polling has clearly shown that attacking the issue of immigration head-on with voters is the most effective tactic. Whether you are campaigning in immigrant-rich Arizona or union-based Michigan, candidates are successful when they discuss immigration directly.
Despite Republican attacks and smear campaigns, candidates who are outspoken about immigration continue to succeed. Governor Janet Napolitano, even after being attacked repeatedly, holds a very high favorability in a strongly Republican state. The Governor has been firm, both by talking about the needs for securing the border and the fact that it is simply unrealistic to deport everyone. Such success is telling, especially given the strong feelings in what is commonly referred to as Ground Zero for immigration.
Gerry Connelly, a Fairfax County Executive and current candidate for Congress, has been aggressive by dialoging with voters about enforcement policies and cracking down on employers. Furthermore, he has balanced his argument by stressing the important of providing services while also creating an effective path to citizenship. As a result, he was reelected with record numbers and is ahead in the general election for a Congressional District that is historically Republican.
Our research and polling has shown that candidates have spoken up about immigration can win. To be successful, you need to dialogue with your voters, lean into this issue and talked about the system being broken. Talking about what kinds of reforms, including legalization as well as enforcement, is the most powerful and effective tactic with voters. We know this is a ground breaking approach, but it is time to shake up the conventional wisdom of immigration strategy. To win, Democrats need to get aggressive and speak out about immigration.