Perhaps race-baiting and xenophobia isn’t such a great GOP strategy after all.
New polling from the Washington Post-Schar School finds incumbent Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA) losing by 12 points to challenger Jennifer Wexton in the closely-watched race in Virginia 10th congressional district. Rep. Comstock has made MS-13 a centerpiece of her campaign, running a host of attack ads hyping the threat and trying to pin a “weak on MS-13” tag on Wexton.
Rep. Comstock should have paid more attention to the Virginia gubernatorial elections last fall. Republican candidate Ed Gillespie ran the same strategy. His campaign made MS-13 the focus of the race down the homestretch against Democratic candidate Ralph Northam, airing no less than four such attack ads. Gillespie ended up losing the now-Governor Northam by a larger than expected 9 percentage points.
Northam’s pollster Geoff Garin told Greg Sargent of the Washington Post that Gillespie’s racialized immigration attacks backfired, saying: “There was a very negative reaction among college educated voters and swing voters generally to his MS-13 ads.” Similarly, election eve polling of 1,600 Virginia voters conducted by Latino Decisions (and sponsored by America’s Voice) showed that Gillespie’s reliance on anti-immigrant attacks failed with voters across all demographics.
According to Matt Hildreth, America’s Voice Political Director:
Just like last fall in Virginia, the Comstock-Wexton race may turn out to be another example of ‘divide, distract, and backfire.’ In race after race, Republican candidates are moving away from kitchen table issues that advantage Democrats and towards ugly anti-immigrant politics. The latest polling is another reminder that most Americans are seeing through this transparent and cynical strategy “divide and distract” strategy. It seems voters are more interested in voting for candidates committed to bridging differences and dealing with issues that affect their daily lives, not for those who rely on racially divisive tactics aimed at stoking fear about the ‘other’.
For more on the Republicans’ divide and distract strategy and how Democrats and progressives should respond, read this recent Medium analysis by Frank Sharry, available here