tags: Press Releases

AZ Senate Primary Offers GOP Fork in the Road on Immigration Politics

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Hayworth vs. McCain a Battle for Republican Long-term Viability

Washington, DC – The news that former U.S. House member and anti-immigration zealot J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ) is challenging Senator John McCain (R-AZ) in a Republican primary offers a fresh reminder of the GOP’s dangerous schism when it comes to immigration politics. 

While anti-immigration ideology is red meat to a contingent of those voting in Republican primaries, such a stance and strategy remains ineffective in a general election and dangerous to the GOP’s larger national ambitions.  The overwhelming failures of the Republican anti-immigration wedge strategy in the 2006 and 2008 elections and the long-term necessities for the GOP to improve its national appeal among Latinos and independents require Republicans to reject the Hayworth approach to immigration politics. 

“J.D. Hayworth is among the most egregious examples of the failure of the anti-immigration wedge strategy,” said Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice.  “While anti-immigrant wedge politics resound with some Republican primary audiences, they are a dead loser for general elections and the GOP’s long-term viability.  Hayworth vs. McCain is shaping up as a test of whether the Republicans have learned the lessons of the past.”

After winning re-election in 2004 by 21 percentage points, Hayworth lost by 4 percentage points in 2006 to Harry Mitchell (D-AZ), a supporter of comprehensive immigration reform, while trying to run on a staunchly anti-immigration platform.  Though he was hurt by his close ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Hayworth’s immigration zealotry clearly hurt him with Latinos and other voters who found his single-minded focus on sealing the border off the mark.  Earlier in 2006, Hayworth published an anti-immigration book Whatever it Takes, in which he likened Republican support for tough anti-immigrant measures as a way “to stand up for our culture.”

This time around, Hayworth is capitalizing on the anti-incumbency mood in the electorate to rise from the ashes, and once again using the immigration issue as a wedge against his opponent, McCain.  Hayworth has already been endorsed by notorious anti-immigration crusaders Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Minuteman Civil Defense Corps co-founder Chris Simcox and is scheduled to speak on a panel this afternoon at the Conservative Political Action Conference taking place in Washington, DC, and to make the introductory remarks at a 6:00 p.m. screening of the film Border War: The Battle Over Illegal Immigration.

Unfortunately for Hayworth, recent history is not kind to the anti-immigration wedge strategy.  Richard Nadler, the late conservative commentator and president of the America’s Majority Foundation, analyzed the role of immigration in 90 competitive House races in 2008 and found that: “Immigration was a wedge issue benefiting the Democratic Party, but not the GOP.”  Specifically, he found that candidates “who were members of, or endorsed by, ‘enforcement only’ groups underperformed candidates within their own party.”  Similarly, America’s Voice analysis showed that in 20 of 22 key 2008 races in which immigration was an issue, the candidate with more pro-reform stance won over the anti-immigration hard-liner.

“Just as Democrats’ long-term political interests mean that they have to deliver on their immigration promises, Republicans must recognize that their sustained political rehabilitation is impossible by embracing the J.D. Hayworths of the world,” said Sharry.

Backgrounder on J.D. Hayworth and Immigration

America’s Voice — Harnessing the power of American voices and American values to win common sense immigration reform.