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A Tale of Two Candidates: Pro-Immigrant Chris Christie Gains Ground With Latino Voters; Anti-Immigrant Ken Cuccinelli Not So Much

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christie cuccinelliThe gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia offer two different models for the national Republican Party on immigration reform and outreach to Latino voters.  Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) is pro-immigrant and doing well.  Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R-VA) is anti-immigrant and heading towards defeat.  The results should speak loudly to a Republican Party that is deciding whether to embrace or reject immigration reform this year, and contemplating its chances in 2014 and 2016.

See below for a snapshot of Chris Christie and Ken Cuccinelli on immigration reform and Latino voter outreach:

Chris Christie: Pro-Immigration Reform with Dedicated Latino Outreach Strategy

  • New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) looks ready to coast to re-election over Democratic challenger Barbara Buono, and is doing so with surprising levels of Latino support.  As the Daily Beast highlights, “According to a number of recent polls, Christie is running even or barely ahead of Buono among Latino voters.”  Christie advisory Michael Duhaime notes, “The governor has built inroads into the Latino community for the past 11 years going back to his days as a U.S. attorney.  I think that as a party what we have done wrong is that we only talk to Hispanics in an election year, instead of doing it all the time.  For us, there is dialogue and trust factor that we have built up.”  Additionally, Christie’s re-election has spent heavily on Spanish-language television, radio, and direct mail.
  • Gov. Christie supports immigration reform with a path to citizenship.  In July 2013 he said at a Republican Governors, “You need to provide people with confidence that the system’s going to be fair and that means everybody…That doesn’t mean just American citizens, also those people who are here, the 11, 12 million you’re talking about.  The fact is we have to be fair to them also…Allowing the system to continue in the broken way that it is now is negative for America’s economy and it’s also bad for these folks who now have had children in this country and some of them grandchildren in this country.  And we’re not being fair to them either.”  Back in July 2010 Governor Christie told ABC’s “This Week,” “The president and the Congress have to step up to the plate, they have to secure our borders, and they have to put forward a commonsense path to citizenship for people.”  And Christie’s interim appointment to the U.S. Senate, Sen. Jeff Chiesa (R), voted for the Senate immigration bill in June, after Gov. Christie counseled him to “do what you think is right.”  To bolster his pro-immigrant credentials, Governor Christie recently became a supporter of a state DREAM Act.  In mid-October, he reversed a previous position and came out in favor of in-state tuition for undocumented immigrant students at public colleges and universities in New Jersey.

Ken Cuccinelli: Driving Away Latino Voters with a Hard-line Immigration Stance

  • As the Washington Post noted in an article highlighting the growing political clout of Virginia’s Latino and Asian-American communities, Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli’s “record as a vocal opponent of immigration reform — well-publicized by Democrats — has left many Latinos with an image of Cuccinelli as not sympathetic to their concerns.”  Additionally, even Theresa Speake, the head of the “Nuestro Cuccinelli” group supporting Cuccinelli, admits that his gubernatorial campaign has been lacking in outreach and engagement to Latino voters.  As Speake told the Washington Post, “We have not done a very good job of educating our community about the fact that we do care.”

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:

The contrast is stark.  Chris Christie is drawing on the tradition of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush by reaching out to Latino voters and supporting positive immigration reforms.  He is on his way to winning a stunning victory in a blue state, which could catapult him to the front of the pack for the 2016 presidential race.  Ken Cuccinelli is drawing on the tradition of Mitt Romney, Pat Buchanan and Steve King by alienating Latino voters with harsh anti-immigrant stances and statements.  He is on his way to a historic defeat.

A word of caution is in order for Governor Christie and the GOP, however.  As Senator John McCain found out in 2008, having a good individual record on immigration cannot overcome the damage done by a tarnished Republican brand that is associated with hostility toward Latinos and opposition to immigration reform.  Speaker of the House John Boehner, along with a couple of influential Virginians – Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) – should take heed.  How they handle immigration reform in the coming weeks and will not only influence the party’s prospects in 2014, it may well determine whether the eventual 2016 GOP presidential nominee, no matter who it is, will be able to compete seriously for Latino voters.

Tomorrow, Latino Decisions, America’s Voice and People For the American Way (PFAW) will release a new election-eve poll of Virginia Latino and Asian voters, assessing attitudes about the current immigration debate and how both candidates’ positioning on this issue have impacted these voters’ political decisions.  Starting tomorrow, data on voters’ attitudes on key immigration policy issues will be released on a rolling basis.  Latino Decisions, PFAW, and America’s Voice will first release the issue questions from this poll of 400 Asian and 400 Latino “extremely likely” voters in Virginia.  Candidate selection data will also be available to reporters under embargo until 7pm Eastern if requested (please email katy@newpartners.com to receive embargoed data).  The data will then be made public as the polls close in Virginia that night.  On Wednesday, November 6th at 12pm ET, pollsters, civic engagement leaders and immigration experts will then analyze the full results on a press call/webinar (dial-in and webinar instructions available HERE).