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Last January, I wrote that immigration hardliners like Steve King were making the Iowa Republican Caucuses irrelevant. Well, I was wrong — sort of.
The demographics (not to mention the conservative ideology) of Iowa Republican caucus goers make it hard for Republican candidates to win both the Iowa caucus and the general election.
But here’s where I was wrong. The Iowa Caucus isn’t entirely irrelevant. In fact, it might just be the single most important factor for mobilizing a key voting bloc in November’s general election: Latino voters.
For most of the caucus season, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have been locked in a dog fight — and both are using immigrant bashing to win the Steve King base of the Iowa Republican party.
This tactic isn’t new. On the eve of the 2012 Iowa Caucus, Mitt Romney made a strong lurch to the anti-immigrant right when by stating he would veto the Dream Act.
This time around pro-immigrant Iowans were ready and more than any other advocacy community in the state set the stage for the national debate.
As far back as August of 2014, immigration supporters confronted Rand Paul in Okaboji over his vote to end the widely successful Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA). Since then, immigration supporters in Iowa have confronted every single major candidate running for President.
It’s wasn’t just Republicans. Many Democratic Candidates were content to rest on President’s Obama’s perceived popularity with Latinos—but groups like DREAM Iowa refused to let that happen. They confronted Hillary Clinton at the 2014 Harkin Steak Fry and Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders at later events.
The Democratic field went from Hillary Clinton flippantly assuring that the solution to our failed immigration system was “elect more Democrats,” to candidates like Martin O’Malley attending entire forums focused solely on immigration reform.
As Democrats quickly coalesced around a pro-immigrant message, the GOP nominating contest became a race to the bottom. Interactions between candidates and Iowa immigrants, including some who are undocumented, happened almost weekly.
Like when Storm Lake resident Ofelia Valdez recently asked Sen. Ted Cruz if she would be deported under his Presidency. His answer was “yes” and his supporters applauded.
Ofelia’s question and Cruz’s callous response was covered widely by both the local and national media and it’s encounters like this that motivated the community. When Ted Cruz and Donald Trump tell you they’ll take your friend and families away, we’re no longer talking about politics. At that point it’s personal. That’s why 800 people (mostly Latino) rallied against Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric at West High School in Sioux City (which has a student body that is 33% Latino), and why 300 people stood out in the cold in Marshalltown. For those that know people who benefit from the President’s immigration programs, this election cycle means everything.
Iowa still matters because we set the stage for this year’s general election – and what was said in Iowa by GOP candidates as they kowtowed to Steve King impacts voters in key swing states like Florida, Nevada and Colorado, to name a few. Thanks to Iowans, Latinos and other voters who care about immigration know where each candidate stands on this cycle’s most widely discussed issue.
The pro-immigrant community is just getting started and the Supreme Court’s recent decision to take up the case challenging President Obama’s executive actions on immigration ensures this work will continue to influence the political narrative until Election Day.
So yes, Iowa still matters. And judging by the, pro-immigrant mobilizing that happened in Iowa in response to Trump and Cruz, that’s not very good news for Republicans.