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Politics of Immigration, 2013 Edition: NJ/VA Governors’ Races Show Risks/Rewards for GOP, While House Republicans Continue to Delay

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This week’s gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia offered two different models of Republicanism, with two decidedly different outcomes.  As the electorate grows more and more diverse, the future of the Republican Party depends upon its ability to attract minority voters, including the growing Asian and Latino electorates.

These voters aren’t looking for talk, they’re looking for action.  So far, the GOP seems to be paralyzed by irrational fear of the Steve King wing of the conference, which is actually growing smaller by the day.  Meanwhile, the conservative support for immigration reform, and the pressure for action from immigrant communities and allied organizations continues to mount.

A year ago today, Speaker Boehner told ABC News that a comprehensive approach to immigration reform is “long overdue” and that he is confident that Republicans and Democrats can find “common ground to take care of [it] once and for all.”  On the anniversary week of the 2012 election, in which historic levels of Latino turnout produced a mandate for immigration reform, Republicans should remember those words and take action.

Here’s why:

  • Elections in Virginia prove that aligning with extremists like Steve King is a big loser. According to election-eve polling by Latino Decisions of Virginia’s Latino and Asian voters, Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli had Mitt-Romney-like numbers among Latino and Asian voters, in large part due to his anti-immigrant record: Virginia Latino voters supported Terry McAuliffe over Ken Cuccinelli by a 66%-29% margin, while Asian voters supported McAuliffe by a 63%-34% margin.  By comparison, in Latino Decisions’ 2012 Election Eve polling in Virginia, Latinos supported President Obama over Mitt Romney by a 66%-31% margin (Asian voters supported Obama over Romney by a 66%-32% margin in 2012, per network exit polls).  Cuccinelli’s anti-immigrant record and rhetoric, including his  labeling of Steve King as his “favorite” congressman,  won him few friends among Virginia’s Latino and Asian voters – this Washington Post story features testimonials from Latino voters about the importance and personal lens through which many Latino and Asian voters view the immigration debate.
  • Meanwhile, elections in New Jersey, prove that leaning into immigration reform and Latino outreach is a big winner.  With pro-immigration stances and investments in Hispanic outreach, Republican Governor Chris Christie dramatically improved his performance among Latinos compared to 2009. Gov. Christie supports immigration reform with citizenship, reversed course and publicly endorsed the New Jersey Dream Act, and spent heavily on Spanish language TV, radio, and mail.  This is a major reason why Gov. Christie went from losing Latino voters by a 65%-32% margin to Gov. Jon Corzine in 2009 per exit polls to winning Latino voters outright, 51%-45%, against Democratic nominee Barbara Buono, per 2013 network exit polls.  Compared to 2009, Christie improved his performance among Latino voters by 59%.

    As Julia Preston highlights in a New York Times article titled, “Lessons on Immigration in Two Governors’ Races,” this week’s election results in both states offer another reminder why Republicans should embrace a pro-immigrant model: “In both states, Latino voters said they were strongly influenced by the Republicans’ positions on immigration.” See here for America’s Voice analysis of the role of immigration in both Virginia and New Jersey races, including detailed election eve polling in Virginia that documents the importance of immigration to Virginia’s growing Latino and Asian voting communities.

  • Additionally, the pro-reform movement is stronger than ever and ramping up the pressure like never before.  Grassroots energy and pressure is building and demonstrating throughout the country on behalf of reform.  This week in Bakersfield, CA, women immigrant rights activists staged a sit-in at House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy’s district office, refusing to leave the office until the Congressman personally listened to their pleas for reform with a path to citizenship to receive a vote on the House floor.  At 11 PM, Rep. McCarthy appeared to meet with the protestors.  Similarly, in Chicago, immigration reform activists blocked several downtown streets to call attention to the need for reform and the end to record-high levels of deportation. These and other actions were planned by We Belong Together, a group working to ensure that the priorities of immigrant women and families are at the center of the immigration debate. 

    Separately, two new television ad campaigns by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the AFL-CIO, challenging key House Republicans and Speaker Boehner to move forward on immigration reform, as well as a renewed political focus by groups to remind nine key House Republicans of the political cost of their inaction, prove that the power and influence of the pro-reform movement is inescapable. This point was further underscored by a new letter from the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, calling on Speaker Boehner to pass immigration reform by the end of the year. As Tom Snyder of the AFL-CIO told POLITICO, “The Republican Party may control the immediate fate of immigration reform, but Latinos and other immigrants control the long-term fate of the Republican Party.” 

  • Polling continues to underscore the political benefits for Republicans if they support reform.  Per a report by Seung Min Kim of POLITICO, a new poll sponsored by Republicans for Immigration Reform, Partnership for a New American Economy, and Compete America “could send a warning to politicians nationwide: Oppose immigration reform at your peril. The results from the survey, sponsored by a trio of GOP-friendly groups and provided to POLITICO in advance, indicate that voters will be warmer toward politicians who favor immigration reform, an effort that faces an uphill battle in the Republican-led House. Fifty-two percent of those surveyed said they would be more likely to support a candidate who backs immigration reform compared with 18 percent who said they would be less likely. On the flip side, 54 percent said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who opposes immigration reform while only 17 percent said they would be more likely.”  A new web site from America’s Voice highlights other polls showing a demand for action on immigration this year—and the 40 Republicans who most need reform to pass before their next election.  As numerous polls make clear, a path to citizenship for aspiring Americans is more popular than Congress.  Republicans’ own numbers would improve if they drop the excuses and get to work on commonsense immigration reform.


For more information on public opinion and cost of inaction on immigration reform to the GOP, see: www.immigrationpower.com and www.thecostofinaction.com.

For the latest Latino Decisions poll of Latino and Asian Voters in Virginia, visit: http://www.latinodecisions.com/recent-polls/.

For a recording of this week’s “Office Hours” telephonic press conference, featuring Matt Barreto of Latino Decisions; Pramila Jayapal of We Belong Together and CCC; Matthew McClellan of NCLR Action Fund; and Angelica Salas of CHIRLA Action Fund, click here.