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In Virginia and Georgia, Changing Demographics Will Impact Immigration Debate

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The demographics in two southern states that have been safe bastions for the GOP are changing. And those changes will impact elections and the immigration reform.

Virginia is considered a purple state at the presidential level. In 2012, President Obama carried the state and former Governor Tim Kaine was elected to the United States Senate.  And the state has a key role in the immigration debate: two key players–Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Judiciary Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte–who will determine the fate of reform in the House are from Virginia.  Also, this November, Virginia will elect a new Governor. The Democratic candidate, Terry McAuliffe, and the Republican candidate, Ken Cuccinelli, are well aware of the state’s new demographics as noted in a recent Politco’s article, “The battle for the new Virginia“:

While Virginia has always had a sizable African-American population, the last 10 years have seen a sharp rise in other nonwhite voting groups. In the 2004 presidential race, Latino voters made up 3 percent of the Virginia electorate and Asians made up 2 percent, according to exit polls. By 2012, those numbers were 5 percent for Latinos and 3 percent for Asians — a combined 60 percent increase in those two heterogeneous groups. In a low-turnout election, that shift could be all the more consequential.

And because of that, Rep. Steve King, his extremism, and Cuccinelli’s associations with him are an issue in the race:

In the past few weeks, McAuliffe and Democratic campaign committees have attacked Cuccinelli for having once praised Iowa Rep. Steve King, the immigration hawk who recently warned of drug-smuggling illegal immigrants with “calves the size of cantaloupes.”

During his visit to Todos, McAuliffe told POLITICO that he hoped to draw sympathetic constituencies to the polls by highlighting the gulf in values that separates him and Cuccinelli.

“This is probably the starkest difference you’ve had between two candidates running for governor,” he said. “My opponent is on a social-ideological agenda. In my bones, you cannot grow an economy and diversify it when you have these hate-filled statements — as it relates to women’s health centers, gay Virginians, the issues on immigration we’ve seen in the last couple days. I want to stop all that.”

Lopez, the state lawmaker who toured the supermarket with McAuliffe, said this election could be a watershed moment for Latinos in Virginia, who have “been systematically demonized by Republicans in Virginia for 11 years, with legislation, with ads.”

“The demographic shifts in the Commonwealth of Virginia, if they continue to move in the way they’ve been going, I think you’re going to see us become more solidly purple and increasingly light blue,” said Lopez, who led the charge for a Virginia DREAM Act over the past year.

And then there’s Georgia.  Political commentators often talk about demographic changes in relation to Arizona and Texas and how Latino voters there might soon turn those states blue.  But right behind them in Georgia, another traditionally red state where demographics are swiftly changing.  In 2012, Mitt Romney carried Georgia, but the margin (53.4% to 45.4%) caught a lot of people by surprise, given it was not a battleground state.  On immigration, Georgia is known for passing an ugly Arizona-style “show us your papers” immigration law back in 2010, which damaged the state’s economy and reputation.

In 2014, Georgia has an open Senate seat. In the crowded GOP primary, several candidates are vying to be the most anti-immigrant.One of them is Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA), who this summer made headlines when he claimed that immigration reform may “destroy our country.”  But that kind of extremism not be a winning strategy in the general election, via The Hill:

[Rep. Paul] Broun introduced a “No amnesty” bill earlier this week that would bar any legal status for immigrants who are in the country illegally. Two days later, [Rep. Jack] Kingston sent a campaign email with the subject line “stopping tax credits for illegal immigrants.”

Eric Tanenblatt, a Georgia strategist who advised and was national finance co-chair for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, says he’s worried the candidates haven’t acknowledged the state’s shifting demographics. Georgia has fast-growing African-American and Hispanic populations and a large number of younger voters moving in from across the country.

“Georgia is changing, and the further you go to the right in the primary, the more difficult that becomes in the general,” he says. “If we’re not careful, we could create an unfortunate situation for ourselves.”

And keep in mind that’s a story about deep-South Georgia. Not Colorado or Nevada. Georgia.

So, in Virginia, where Tim Kaine ran Spanish-language ads in 2012, Steve King is already an issue in the 2013 race for Governor. Meanwhile in Georgia, the expected anti-immigrant ugliness spewed by Broun and Kingston in the primary will not only define their race, it will further define the GOP.

On the one hand, you have changing demographics and states where the population is moving far away from Steve King’s brand of extremism.  On the other, you have the likes of Ken Cuccinelli and Paul Broun somehow still believing that King’s tactics are a way to win GOP and primary voters.  The Republican Party should be very, very worried.