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For a Republican Party that is deciding whether to embrace or reject immigration reform this year, the gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia show how two different models of Republican engagement on immigration can lead to two wildly different outcomes.
In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) is poised to coast to re-election and may win an outright majority of New Jersey’s Latino voters, after embracing pro-immigrant policies and prioritizing Latino outreach. Gov. Christie’s potential strong performance among Latino voters would be all the more impressive given his low levels of Latino support in the 2009 gubernatorial election (when he lost by a 65%-32% margin, per 2009 exit polls).
Meanwhile, in Virginia, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R-VA) is heading towards a defeat. His anti-immigrant rhetoric and record won him few friends among Virginia’s Latino and Asian voters, with election eve polling in Virginia placing him at “Mitt Romney levels” of support among these two groups– Latino voters supported Terry McAuliffe over Ken Cuccinelli by a 66%-29% margin, while Asian voters supported McAuliffe by a 63%-34% margin. The election-eve poll of 800 extremely likely Latino and Asian-American voters in Virginia, conducted by Latino Decisions and sponsored by America’s Voice and People For the American Way (PFAW), provides an window into the new politics of immigration reform in Virginia and across the U.S. The poll also makes it clear, though, that a change in rhetoric is not enough to swing elections for the national GOP—it’s going to take a change in their record too.
According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:
In New Jersey and Virginia, the national Republican Party has real-time test cases of how best to handle immigration and outreach to Latino and Asian voters. Coming at a time when the national Republican Party is deciding what path to choose on immigration reform, House Republican leaders should take note both of Chris Christie’s successes in New Jersey and Ken Cuccinelli’s abject failures in Virginia and proceed on reform accordingly.
Below are key takeaways from the New Jersey and Virginia elections. Poll results are from the Latino Decisions 2013 election-eve survey of extremely likely Latino and Asian voters in Virginia, unless otherwise noted.
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.