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House Races to Watch for Immigrant and Latino Voters

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Today, America’s Voice releases a spotlight on fourteen competitive House races of importance to Latino and Asian voters and all those who care about common sense immigration reform.  The analysis evaluates the power of the Latino and Asian voter community in these Congressional Districts and summarizes where each U.S. House candidate stands on the issue of immigration reform.  America’s Voice released a similar spotlight on Senate races to watch last week.

America’s Voice’s House Races to Watch:

  • AZ-09: Krysten Sinema (D) v. Vernon Parker (R)
  • CA-07: Ami Berra (D) v. Rep. Dan Lungren (R), incumbent
  • CA-10: Jose Hernandez (D), v. Rep. Jeff Denham (R), incumbent
  • CA-26: Julia Brownley (D), v. Tony Strickland (R)
  • CA-30: Rep. Howard Berman (D), incumbent v. Rep. Brad Sherman (D), incumbent
  • CA-52: Scott Peters (D) v. Rep. Brian Bilbray (R), incumbent
  • CO-06: Joe Miklosi (D), v. Rep. Mike Coffman (R), incumbent
  • FL-18: Patrick Murphy (D) v. Rep. Allen West (R)
  • FL-22: Lois Frankel (D) v. Adam Hasner (R)
  • IL-08: Tammy Duckworth (D) v. Rep. Joe Walsh (R), incumbent
  • IA-04: Christie Vilsack (D) v. Rep. Steve King (R), incumbent
  • NV-03: John Oceguera (D) v. Rep. Joe Heck (R), incumbent
  • NV-04: Steven Horsford (D) vs. Danny Tarkanian (R)
  • TX-23: Pete Gallego (D) v. Rep. Francisco “Quico” Canseco (R), incumbent

The outcome of these close congressional races will mean the difference between sending another supporter of immigration reform to Congress, or another opponent.  That is why it’s so important for all voters who care about immigrants and common sense immigration reform to make their voices heard this November.

See below for the snapshot (also posted online here):


District: Arizona’s 9th Congressional District (Open)

Candidates: Krysten Sinema (D) v. Vernon Parker (R)

Rating: Lean Democratic (Cook Political Report, 9/25/12)

Latino Voting Age Population: 22.4%

Asian Voting Age Population: 4.3%

Though voter registration in Arizona’s brand-new Ninth Congressional District is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, the District is heavily Latino (26.9% of all residents are Latino, and 22.4% of all voting-age residents).  It’s also in the heart of Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s stomping ground in Maricopa County.  So it’s fitting that the candidates—Democrat Krysten Sinema and Republican Vernon Parker—represent such different poles of the immigration debate.  Sinema has been a champion of immigrants in the state legislature: she fought Arpaio’s abuses for years and led the effort to block Arizona from passing more extreme legislation in 2011.  Parker, on the other hand, is the founder of a defunct PAC called “Defend Sheriff Joe.”

Whoever wins what’s likely to be “the state’s most competitive” race will determine whether immigrants and their allies have another supporter in Congress, or another opponent.


District: California’s 7th Congressional District (Lungren-R)

Candidates: Ami Berra (D) v. Rep. Dan Lungren (R), incumbent

Rating: Toss Up (Cook Political Report, 9/25/12)

Latino Voting Age Population: 13.7%

Latino Eligible Voter Population: 10.3%

Asian Voting Age Population: 13.7%

Asian Eligible Voter Population: 10.0%

Rep. Dan Lungren has been in Congress so long, he actually used to support immigration reform.  He was a House sponsor of the Immigration Reform Act of 1986, which President Ronald Reagan signed into law.  This bill legalized nearly 2.7 million undocumented immigrants, including as many as 1.3 million who are now voters in California.  Unfortunately, that was back during his first stint in Congress, from 1979 to 1989, before he left to seek a variety of statewide offices in California.  In 2004, Lungren returned to Congress with a changed tune, saying during a House hearing that a path to citizenship for undocumented workers “is what doomed all immigration legislation in the last two administrations.”  Lungren also supports the construction of a border fence, and amending the 14th Amendment to end birthright citizenship for babies born to undocumented parents.  His positions have earned him an “A” ranking from the extremist Americans for Legal Immigration PAC.

This year, Lungren has been redistricted into California’s 7th Congressional District, a swing district that is equally split between Republicans and Democrats and where Latinos are 16% of the population.  His race against Dr. Ami Bera is considered a “tossup.”


District: California’s 10th Congressional District (Denham-R)

Candidates: Jose Hernandez (D), v. Rep. Jeff Denham (R), incumbent

Rating: Lean R (Cook Political Report, 9/25/12)

Latino Voting Age Population: 34.9%

Latino Eligible Voter Population: 24.8%

Asian Voting Age Population: 6.5%

Asian Eligible Voter Population: 5.5%

National Journal has this to say about California’s 10th District: “This district seems bound to turn Democratic eventually; the question is when.  A quick walk around Modesto is all you need to understand the pace of demographic change in this area and why Republicans need to figure out how to recover ground with Hispanics sooner rather than later.”  At a Latino Community Roundtable with all the candidates in April, immigration was a popular topic.  Rep. Denham made it clear that his top priority on immigration is enforcement.  He said he opposes the DREAM Act, but claimed to support comprehensive immigration reform and a guest-worker program.

His challenger, Democrat Jose Hernandez, is an unabashed champion of immigrants. Hernandez, the California-born son of migrant farmworkers who were once undocumented, has been an outspoken champion of comprehensive immigration reform since before he entered politics. As a high-profile NASA astronaut who flew in one of the last space-shuttle missions, Hernandez gained national attention when he expressed his belief that “Having 12 million undocumented people here means there’s something wrong with the system, and the system needs to be fixed.”  Hernandez has continued to speak out in favor of humane immigration policies during his congressional campaign.

If Denham wins in 2012, his days appear numbered unless he can adapt to this changing district.  If Hernandez is elected, he will bring his experience as a child of formerly undocumented immigrants to Congress.  The question for Latino voters is whether they’ll see a strong advocate for the policies they support in the next Congress, or the one after that.


District: California’s 26th Congressional District (Open)

Candidates: Julia Brownley (D), v. Tony Strickland (R)

Rating: Toss-Up (Cook Political Report, 9/25/12)

Latino Voting Age Population: 38.5%

Latino Eligible Voter Population: 26.2%

Asian Voting Age Population: 6.8%

Asian Eligible Voter Population: 6.3%

Technically, California’s 26th Congressional District is a “new” district.  But in reality, it’s just the result of a few tweaks made to the district of Republican Congressman Elton Gallegly.  Gallegly has been at the forefront of the House Republicans’ anti-immigration agenda since the 1990s, and is currently the Chairman of the House Immigration Subcommittee.  Gallegly supported rewriting the 14th Amendment to end “birthright citizenship” before it was a popular Republican position.  He tried to take California’s Proposition 187 nationwide with an amendment to the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act in 1996, and just last year, he led a failed effort with Judiciary Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) to make E-Verify mandatory for all employers in the United States.

When California’s Congressional districts were redrawn this last cycle, the writing was on the wall for Gallegly, and he decided to take the dignified way out: he’s retiring.  In the toss-up race to fill his seat, Democratic candidate Julia Brownley has been an immigrant champion: a steadfast supporter of common-sense reforms like the DREAM Act, she co-authored the California DREAM Act granting in-state tuition to undocumented Californian college students, and has been endorsed by Immigrants’ List.  Her Republican opponent, Tony Strickland, has an anti-immigrant voting record as a state legislator: he voted against the California DREAM Act  and the TRUST Act, which would have kept the police from turning immigrants over to ICE on minor charges.  But if Strickland’s voting record resembles Gallegly’s, he’s certainly not campaigning as a Gallegly clone. He says that creating a path to citizenship for undocumented residents is “something to definitely have a look at,” and told the Western Growers Association that “I think we should encourage people who want to come here and work in our agriculture and hotel industries.  We need them.”

With Gallegly’s retirement, the anti-immigrant movement will be losing one of its key voices in Congress.  But the question is, will he be replaced with an immigration reform champion, or someone with a similar record to Gallegly in the state house?  It’s up to 26th District voters to decide.


District: California’s 30th Congressional District (Berman-D/Sherman-D)

Candidates: Rep. Howard Berman (D), incumbent v. Rep. Brad Sherman (D), incumbent

Rating: Solid Democratic (Cook Political Report, 9/25/12)

Latino Voting Age Population: 24%

Latino Eligible Voter Population: 16.4%

Asian Voting Age Population: 12.3%

Asian Eligible Voter Population: 10%

In California’s redrawn Congressional District 30, 14-term Democratic congressman Howard Berman is facing off against 8-term Democratic congressman Brad Sherman.  Despite support from a vast array of Democratic leaders, unions, and legends like Dolores Huerta, Berman lost to Sherman once already, in the June primary, and the two face a rematch in November.  Although Rep. Sherman has voted the right way on immigration over the years, Rep. Berman has been an essential—yet understated—player in every legislative battle since the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act.

In a District that is 27% Latino and 12% Asian (with Latinos comprising 24% of voting-age residents), will Sherman’s home-field advantage rule the day?  Or will Berman be able to connect with potential new constituents to communicate his crucial role passing legislation that expanded labor and immigration rights and directly helped their families?  Although it seems that immigrants will retain the support of whoever represents California’s 30th District after this election, the key question is whether they will retain the author of the original DREAM Act,  and one of their biggest champions.


District: California’s 52nd Congressional District (Bilbray-R)

Candidates: Scott Peters (D) v. Rep. Brian Bilbray (R), incumbent

Rating: Toss Up (Cook Political Report, 9/25/12)

Latino Voting Age Population: 11.5%

Latino Eligible Voter Population: 9.4%

Asian Voting Age Population: 17.8%

Asian Eligible Voter Population: 12.8%

Brian Bilbray, California’s Congressman-turned-hate-group-lobbyist-turned-Congressman, was first elected to the House in 1994, and has faced close races before.  In 2000, he actually lost his seat in the 49th District to Democrat Susan Davis, after which he promptly turned around and became a lobbyist for the Federation for Immigration Reform (FAIR), which the Southern Poverty Law Center designates as a hate group.  In 2006 Bilbray returned to Congress from California’s 50th District, after being elected to replace Randy “Duke” Cunningham (who resigned on bribery charges).  Immigration is Bilbray’s pet issue: he chairs the extremist House Immigration Reform Caucus, blames immigrants for environmental degradation, says that you can identify an undocumented immigrant by the clothes he wears (“right down to the shoes”), supports mandatory E-Verify as a way to purge the country of undocumented workers, and blames the DREAM Act for murders committed by cartels.

Today, he is still listed as a member of the National Board of Advisors for FAIR. His race against Democrat Scott Peters in California’s redistricted 52nd Congressional District (which is 13% Latino) is listed as a tossup.


District: Colorado’s 6th Congressional District (Coffman-R)

Candidates: Joe Miklosi (D), v. Rep. Mike Coffman (R), incumbent

Rating: Toss Up (Cook Political Report, 9/25/12)

Latino Voting Age Population: 16.7%

Asian Voting Age Population: 5.3%

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) is now locked in a tough re-election campaign due to a changing district and his own inability (or unwillingness) to adapt.  National Journal identified the 6th District contest as one of five “bellwether races” this cycle, pointing out that “One of the first bills [Coffman] introduced in Congress ended requirements for ballots to be printed in languages other than English, a reasonable proposal for a conservative legislator, but one out of sync with a district that’s 16 percent Hispanic—more than double the percentage of his old district.”  Coffman has taken other extreme positions that match those of his predecessor Tancredo.  He wants to end birthright citizenship to children born in the U.S. if their parents are undocumented.  And after voting against the DREAM Act in 2010, Coffman issued a statement calling the legislation “a nightmare for the American people.”

Coffman’s challenger, state representative Joe Miklosi, is 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).  In one of his first interviews since declaring his candidacy for the 6th District seat, Miklosi cited immigration reform as a major issue that distinguishes him from Coffman.  A Democratic victory here would replace a verifiable immigration extremist with a champion for immigrants in Congress—and send a powerful message about moderation to Republicans in swing districts nationwide.


District: Florida’s 18th Congressional District (West-R)

Candidates: Patrick Murphy (D) v. Rep. Allen West (R)

Rating: Toss Up (Cook Political Report, 9/25/12)

Latino Voting Age Population: 11.6%

Rep. Allen West is one of the best-known members of the GOP’s freshman class, mostly because of the inflammatory remarks he’s made about many different groups, including immigrants, over the past several years.  Last year, while talking about undocumented immigrants, West said “you have to repel invasions.”  In June, West attacked the President’s DREAMer relief policy, asking “Is this one of those backdoor opportunities to allow people in the next five months to get the opportunity to vote?

West’s Democratic opponent, Patrick Murphy, is a businessman whose views on immigration are the polar opposite of West’s.  On his campaign website, Murphy states, “I believe undocumented workers that have otherwise observed our laws should be given a reasonable path to legality.”  He also “strongly” supports the DREAM Act.


District: Florida’s 22nd Congressional District (Open)

Candidates: Lois Frankel (D) v. Adam Hasner (R)

Rating: Lean Democratic (Cook Political Report, 9/25/12)

Latino Voting Age Population: 17.2%

After this district was redrawn, Rep. Allen West (R) left to run in the 18th to improve his chances for re-election.  Former State Rep. Adam Hasner initially ran in the Republican primary to face  Bill Nelson in the U.S. Senate race, with the support of some far-right leaders.  In that unsuccessfull campaign, Hasner positioned himself as the toughest anti-immigrant voice in the state legislature.  He eventually dropped out of the Senate race to run for Congress in the new District 22.  Hasner’s current campaign website talks about the need to “[s]ecure America’s borders from illegal infiltration,” and he is firmly in the conspiracy wing of the anti-immigrant movement.

Hasner’s opponent is Lois Frankel, the Democratic former Mayor of West Palm Beach.  At a candidate forum in September, she expressed support for the DREAM Act and a “fair and humane” way for undocumented immigrants to come forward to get legal status and, in some cases citizenship.  Hasner disagreed, stating that we need to deal with this issue “sequentially”; i.e. secure the border and reform the legal system first.  Only after we take these steps, he argued, should we consider other measures.


District: Illinois’ 8th Congressional District (Walsh-R)

Candidates: Tammy Duckworth (D) v. Rep. Joe Walsh (R), incumbent

Rating: Likely Democratic (Cook Political Report, 9/25/12)

Latino Voting Age Population: 22.14%

Asian Voting Age Population: 12.26%

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”—thanks to challenger Tammy Duckworth’s double-digit lead in recent polls.  On immigration, Walsh is similarly extreme.  After President Obama announced his deferred action policy for DREAMers, Walsh called him a “tyrant” and then said, “I don’t want to give him that credit because I don’t think he’s smart enough.”  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.

Iraq War veteran Tammy Duckworth, on the other hand, supports comprehensive immigration reform and the DREAM Act.  In a candidate debate in September 2012, she attacked Walsh for being “extreme” and reiterated her support for common-sense immigration measures.


District: Iowa’s 4th Congressional District (King-R)

Candidates: Christie Vilsack (D) v. Rep. Steve King (R), incumbent

Rating: Lean Republican (Cook Political Report, 9/25/12)

Latino Voting Age Population: 4.3%

Asian Voting Age Population: 1.6%

In Iowa’s new 4th Congressional District, five-term Congressman and Vice Chair of the House Immigration Subcommittee Steve King (R) is facing 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’s old 5th District was eliminated after the last census, and while minority strength will be limited in this election (92% of 4th District voters are white), the new district contains a few more independents and far more Democratic voters than King is used to.  Activists are closely monitoring the race as a rare opportunity to take down one of the nation’s most offensive and inflammatory politicians.  King 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.”

After King stood up for Missouri Rep. Todd Akin (R) and his offensive comments about rape victims, his race with Christie Vilsack tightened up.  Though King still retains a slight advantage, money has poured in for Vilsack, leading one anonymous Republican spectator to note that King was on his list of top five Republican incumbents “most likely to not return to Congress next year.”


District: Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District (Heck-R)

Candidates: John Oceguera (D) v. Rep. Joe Heck (R), incumbent

Rating: Toss Up (Cook Political Report, 9/25/12)

Latino Voting Age Population: 13.49%

Asian Voting Age Population: 14.27%

Nevada’s 3rd District race will be closely watched, as Rep. Heck won election in 2010 by only 1,078 votes.  Latino voters will play a crucial role in determining the outcome of this race.  Heck’s challenger is Democrat John Oceguera, the Nevada State Assembly Speaker, who is of Hispanic descent.

Heck opposes the DREAM Act, and has said that he wants to end birthright citizenship.  On the other hand, when President Obama announced his Administration’s new deferred action policy for DREAMers, John Oceguera issued a statement praising it and criticizing his opponent for being too extreme.

Nevada Latinos are being heavily targeted by grassroots efforts to mobilize them to vote—and other efforts to keep them from the polls.  In the 3rd District, they have a clear choice between an anti-immigrant incumbent and someone who shares their perspective on immigration reform.


District: Nevada’s 4th Congressional District (Open)

Candidates: Steven Horsford (D) vs. Danny Tarkanian (R)

Rating: Lean Democratic (Cook Political Report, 9/25/12)

Latino Voter Age Population: 22.93%

Asian Voting Age Population: 6.71%

Nevada’s 4th district is another highly anticipated race in a state with a growing number of Latino voters who are changing politics.  When Danny Tarkanian ran unsuccessfully for the Republican Senate nomination in 2010, he earned the endorsement of the anti-immigrant Minuteman Project with his hardline positions like opposition to the DREAM Act and support for Arizona’s “show me your papers” law.  In July 2012, Tarkanian had a tense meeting with Hispanic activists in which he accused President Obama of using Hispanics as a “political football.”  Regarding Obama’s relief for DREAMers, he said: “I certainly don’t agree with it because it wasn’t passed in Congress.”

The Democratic candidate, Steven Horsford, is the outgoing Majority Leader of the Nevada Senate.  He supports comprehensive immigration reform, the DREAM Act, and the Obama Administration’s deferred action policy.

Tarkanian has tried to soften his position slightly on immigration in 2012, saying that he now supports the provision in the DREAM Act that provides a path to citizenship for undocumented youth who serve in the military, but opposes the rest.  Horsford contends that Tarkanian is still too extreme on the issue for the 4th District.  We’ll find out for sure in November.


District: Texas’ 23rd Congressional District (Canseco-R)

Candidates: Pete Gallego (D) v. Rep. Francisco “Quico” Canseco (R), incumbent

Rating: Toss Up (Cook Political Report, 9/25/12)

Latino Voting Age Population: 65.8%

Texas’ 23rd District is 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) will be a true test of Hispanic power both at the podium and in the voting booth.  According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 66% of the district is populated by Latinos, with 48% speaking Spanish at home.  In an effort to reach out to district voters, both candidates participated in what was one of the first Spanish-language debates for a congressional race in the state.  While the debate primarily focused on Medicare and Social Security, Gallego was still able to remind the audience that his opponent was one of the original sponsors of English-only legislation.  “He wants to be our voice, but he only has the most extremist ideas,” said Gallego.

Over the years, Rep. Canseco has built up a hardline record when it comes to immigration policy.  In 2007, he applauded Senator Cornyn and other Senators for voting against the DREAM Act, and earlier this year, he told Telemundo that the DREAM Act “had no support in the House.”  When asked to comment on President Obama’s new deferred action policy for DREAMers, Canseco remained silent on the substance of the policy but critical of the way “the president handled the decision, by not consulting Congress, during an interview with a TV station in San Antonio,” reported Victoria Pelham of the Dallas Morning News.  Canseco’s 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.  According to his campaign website, Gallego supports “a path to legalization” for immigrants currently living in the U.S.

It’s clear where the candidates stand, but it will be interesting to see how their stark immigration differences will weigh on the minds of Latino voters.