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Yesterday, Democrat Steve Stern won a New York State Assembly special election on Long Island, flipping a seat that had been long under Republicans’ control. The contest featured several familiar themes we are seeing in races all across America this cycle.
First, the Democratic candidate overperformed, with Stern running 11 percentage points ahead of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 performance in the district and 15 points ahead of Barack Obama’s 2012 performance from 2012. Second, Republicans again relied on the playbook of Trump and Sessions and ran hard on ugly, anti-immigrant scare tactics and fear-mongering.
This is now becoming a pattern. In the 2017 races for Virginia and New Jersey Governor, the GOP’s anti-immigrant attacks not only did not work, they backfired. In other races, from a Florida special election to Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District, the GOP politics of fear was tried and failed.
New York-based pollster Nick Gourevitch of the Global Strategy Group highlighted the specifics of the Republicans’ MS-13-focused scare tactics, tweeting an image of an ugly Republican mailer in the race with this comment:
More failed scare tactics for the GOP. They ran mailers like this against the Dem in a suburban NY swing Assembly District. But Dem Steve Stern won big: 59%-41% in a seat long held by the GOP.
Writing in Vox, Matt Yglesias summed it up this way:
The race was also notable as yet another example of the GOP trying and failing to make the Salvadoran street gang MS-13 into the Democratic candidate’s running mate. Unlike in some other races where the GOP has played the MS-13 card, the gang really does have a substantial presence in Suffolk County, and it’s not a totally unreasonable issue for candidates to talk about. But in practice, the issue seems to be falling flat here as elsewhere.
The Washington Post editorial board recently described this Republican strategy, whihc is likely to be used across the country this election season: “The Republican playbook is all about fear. By wallowing in wedge issues and demonizing The Other, the party hopes to frighten voters out of their wits — and into voting for GOP candidates who, like Mr. Trump, would capitalize on division by flirting with the electorate’s most noxious elements.”\
According to Matt Hildreth, Political Director of America’s Voice:
These Republicans scare tactics don’t make anyone safer and their fear-mongering has no place in our politics. We are better than this. The New York Special Election showed, once again, that Americans are tired of the unhinged hysteria coming from the White House and GOP. Voters are opting instead for commonsense solutions and a sense of decency in our civic dialogue. However, Republicans seem intent on ignoring the message coming from voters and we expect ugly anti-immigrant attacks to be the core focus of Republican campaigns up and down the ballot and across the country this cycle.
For more information on GOP’s anti-immigrant attacks and their politics of fear this cycle, check out the political memo from America’s Voice and access more information and analysis on our 2017 election eve poll of Virginia voters.