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GOP Gubernatorial Races in California and Colorado Shows What Happens When Republicans Cede the Initiative to the Hardliners

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What an Ex-Minuteman, Tom Tancredo, and Eric Cantor Have in Common

Washington, DC – So much for the modernization of the Republican Party.

In California, Assemblyman Tim Donnelly has a very real chance to win the state’s Republican primary in early June.  Donnelly is a former Minuteman, who once likened unauthorized immigration to a war, and called on fellow vigilantes to stand with him against Mexicans the way Jim Bowie did at the Alamo.  The prospect of his nomination is so potentially damaging that even notorious immigrant-basher and former Governor Pete Wilson, the architect of 1994’s Proposition 187, is warning about the prospects of a Donnelly primary victory.  It was Wilson’s embrace of hardline immigration policy that helped to mobilize California’s Latino voters and, together with relentless demographic change, have helped turn the state enduringly blue.  Yet as the Washington Post reports, even Wilson is now stating, “With Tim Donnelly on the ballot, it would be a losing campaign, risking injury to our party and our state, and to other Republican candidates who deserve to win.”

In Colorado, longtime anti-immigrant zealot and former Rep. Tom Tancredo is polling at the top of a crowded Republican gubernatorial primary.  A leader in the GOP’s nativist wing, Tancredo has called Miami a “Third World Country,” accused the Pope of supporting immigrants to boost church membership and called Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor a member of the Latino Klu Klux Klan.  He hasn’t changed.  After Mitt Romney took a shellacking from Latino voters for embracing “self-deportation,” Tancredo nonetheless has stayed with it, writing in March 2013, “strict enforcement of employer sanctions and allowing local police to cooperate in immigration enforcement will encourage most illegals to, in Mitt Romney’s words, ‘self-deport.’”  Colorado is following in California’s footsteps as a purple state that is turning blue.  After George W. Bush won the state twice, Colorado voted twice for Barack Obama and has become increasingly Democratic – in part due to the impact of sharp distinctions between the parties on immigration and the rise of the Latino electorate.  Tancredo at the top of the ticket in Colorado could spell trouble for other competitive Colorado 2014 races, such as the Senate contest between Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) and Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and the House battle between Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) and Andrew Romanoff (D).

Meanwhile, in Congress, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) has blocked the ENLIST Act, the least controversial immigration measure imaginable; Cantor and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) continue to block a larger legislative immigration overhaul despite its overwhelming popularity; and the Republican House seems intent to let its defining immigration floor vote for this Congress to be Steve King’s amendment to resume the deportations of DREAMers.

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

Following the 2012 elections it looked like the Republican Party was going to stand up to its loud-but-not-large nativist wing and enact immigration reform as a way of modernizing the party and regaining its competitiveness with the changing American electorate.  Now, thanks to House Republican leadership’s unwillingness to move immigration reform, the vacuum is being filled by the extremists such as Donnelly and Tancredo.  As a result, the GOP is on the verge of cementing its brand as the anti-immigrant party that blocked the best chance to enact immigration reform in a generation.  When Pete Wilson is telling you to change course, perhaps it’s time to do so.