tags: , , , , America’s Voice Research on Immigration Reform

Six Races to Watch for Immigration Reform Supporters

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Updated November 2012 | Click here to download PDF

In six Senate races America’s Voice identified as Races to Watch for Supporters of Immigration Reform in the election, supporters and champions of immigrant rights won four and lost one or two—although there are already signs that some of the winners of races immigrant supporters “lost” may be changing position.

Just as in 2010, when the “Latino firewall” in the West saved the Senate for the Democrats, Latino voters played a key role in helping Democrats keep a Senate majority by holding seats in Florida, New Mexico and Virginia. Close races in Arizona and Nevada indicate that Senator Dean Heller and Senator-elect Jeff Flake—just like any other Republican in a state or district undergoing swift demographic change—will need to keep Latino voters top of mind if they want to stay in the Senate.

America’s Voice’s Senate Races to Watch:

  • OUTCOME TBD: Arizona: Richard Carmona (D) v. Rep. Jeff Flake (R)
  • WIN: Florida: Rep. Connie Mack IV (R) v. Sen. Bill Nelson (D), incumbent
  • WIN: Massachusetts: Elizabeth Warren (D) v. Sen. Scott Brown (R), incumbent
  • LOSS: Nevada: Rep. Shelley Berkley (D) v. Sen. Dean Heller (R), incumbent
  • WIN: New Mexico: Rep. Martin Heinrich (D) v. former Rep. Heather Wilson (R)
  • WIN: Virginia: Former Governor Tim Kaine (D) v. former Governor/former Senator George Allen (R)

See below for the snapshot (also posted online here):


Candidates: Richard Carmona (D) v. Rep. Jeff FLAKE (R)

Rating: Toss Up (Cook Political Report, 10/4/12)

Latino Eligible Voter Population: 23.7% (Ruy Teixeira and William Frey)

Asian Voting Age Population: 1.1% (Center for American Progress)

Final vote: Flake 49.7%/Carmona 45.8%

Latino vote:  Carmona 83%/Flake 17%

(“Latino vote” is taken from Latino Decisions’ election-eve poll.)

Arizona’s Jeff Flake used to be a true champion of comprehensive immigration reform—but when running for Arizona’s open Senate seat against Democrat Richard Carmona, Flake toed his party’s anti-immigrant line, even going so far as to vote against the DREAM Act in 2010.  But while the Congressman won the Senate race, he might not have needed to contort himself so much to do it: in the two years since the Arizona legislature passed SB 1070, voters have begun to realize that immigrant-bashing is distracting and destructive.  SB 1070’s lead sponsor, State Senate President Russell Pearce, was kicked out of office in an unprecedented recall election in 2011—then defeated again in 2012.

Advocates and community leaders worked hard to ensure that Latinos (who measure 30.1% of Arizona’s population and 23.7% of its eligible voter population) and immigrants in Arizona showed resilience in the face of anti-immigrant bullying by showing up at the polls, and succeeded in turning a seat that was assumed to be safe for Republicans early in 2012 into a closely-watched race.  Now that Flake’s won the seat and his party is undergoing a major shift on this issue, he has a choice: revert to his leadership role and steer the Republican Party forward, or continue his rhetoric from the campaign.

While Carmona was more consistent on the issue, Flake has the potential to be a leader if he returns to his roots.  He has already started making noises that he’s headed in a pro-immigrant direction, so we are calling this race’s outcome TBD for immigrants.

For more, see America’s Voice’s Spotlight on Arizona.



Candidates: Sen. Bill NELSON (D), incumbent v. Rep. Connie Mack IV (R)

Rating: Lean Democratic (Cook Political Report, 10/4/12)

Latino Eligible Voter Population: 17.7% (Teixeira/Frey)

Asian Voting Age Population: 1.9% (Center for American Progress)

Final vote: Nelson 55.2%/Mack 42.2%

Latino vote:  Nelson 59%/Mack 40%

(“Latino vote” is taken from Latino Decisions’ election-eve poll.)

Florida’s Latino community has long been a powerful force in state politics, constituting 17.7% of eligible voters. The Republican Senate nominee, Rep. Connie Mack IV, once showed some promise of becoming a moderate on immigration—like his father, Senator Connie Mack III.  In the spring of 2010, Mack IV actually spoke out against Arizona’s harsh SB 1070.  But he soon fell in line with the Republican Party positions on immigration, voting against the DREAM Act in December of 2010.  (Three of Mack’s Hispanic colleagues in the Florida congressional delegation, Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart and Lincoln Diaz-Balart, co-sponsored and voted for DREAM.)  Senator Bill Nelson (D), on the other hand, has a strong record in support of immigrants.  He voted to end the GOP filibuster of the DREAM Act on December 18, 2010 and is a cosponsor of the legislation.

While Florida’s Latino community has leaned Republican for decades, the Latino electorate is changing and becoming more Democratic.  Perhaps that is why Florida Governor Rick Scott engaged in an unprecedented partisan attack on the voting rights of certain citizens, including Latinos, in 2012.  While Scott’s efforts caused voters great inconvenience and long lines at the polls, it didn’t manage to deter African-American and Latino turnout enough to save Mack and the Republicans—and with white voters only supporting Mack in slightly greater numbers than they supported Nelson, strong support for Nelson among African-Americans and non-Cuban Latinos made the difference. In the end, he cruised to re-election and will be able to fight for Florida’s immigrant community in the coming push for immigration reform.

For more, see America’s Voice’s Spotlight on Florida.



Candidates: Elizabeth WARREN (D) v. Sen. Scott Brown (R), incumbent

Rating: Toss Up (Cook Political Report, 10/4/12)

Latino Eligible Voter Population: 7.2% (Teixeira/Frey)

Asian Voting Age Population: 4.6% (Center for American Progress)

Final vote: Warren 53.7%/Brown 46.3%

Latino vote:  Warren 86%/Brown 14%

(“Latino vote” is taken from Latino Decisions’ election-eve poll.)

As a Republican in Massachusetts, Scott Brown portrayed himself as a moderate. But when it comes to the issue of immigration, he was a hard-liner.  On December 18, 2010, Brown gave up all pretense of moderation when he voted in support of the Republican filibuster of the DREAM Act.  To pile on, Brown also criticized the DREAM relief policy announced by President Obama on June 15, 2012, stating, “I opposed this policy in legislative form, and I oppose it today as an executive order.” He has voiced strong support for the controversial “Secure Communities” program—which his state’s governor, Deval Patrick, opposes because of its impact on community policing.

Senator-elect Warren’s views on immigration are at the opposite—welcoming—end of the spectrum. She supports the DREAM Act, supports the President’s administrative policy on DREAMers, and believes that Brown’s vote against DREAM in 2010 was a mistake that “denied the dreams of these young people” and “cost our communities and our country.”

According to demographers Ruy Teixeira and William Frey, in Massachusetts, Latinos comprise 7.2% of the state’s population of eligible voters—a 98% increase between 2000 and 2010. These voters supported Warren overwhelmingly, helping her to victory in November, and restoring an immigrant champion to a seat long held by the late Senator Ted Kennedy.



Candidates: Rep. Shelley Berkley (D) v. Sen. Dean HELLER (R), incumbent

Rating: Toss Up (Cook Political Report, 10/4/12)

Latino Eligible Voter Population: 16.9% (Teixeira/Frey)

Asian Voting Age Population: 7.7% (Center for American Progress)

Final vote: Heller 45.9%/Berkley 44.7%

Latino vote:  Berkley 79%/Heller 20%

(“Latino vote” is taken from Latino Decisions’ election-eve poll.)

Republican Senator Dean Heller wants to end birthright citizenship in the United States—but you wouldn’t know it from his campaign materials. Heller learned from his party’s experience in Nevada in 2010, when Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle’s decision to make anti-immigrant attacks the centerpiece of her campaign backfired.  Instead of being intimidated out of voting, Latinos (16.9% of the state’s eligible voter population and 26.5% of its residents) turned up in droves to support Senator Harry Reid, as part of a “Latino firewall” stretching across the West that saved the Senate for the Democrats.

This cycle, with the fate of the Senate again in the balance, Heller opted to reach out to Latino voters through gauzy, biography-heavy Spanish-language ads and vague policy language on his Spanish-language website—hoping to obscure his opposition to birthright citizenship and his vote against the DREAM Act in the House in 2010.  On the other hand, his opponent, Democrat Rep. Shelley Berkley, a DREAM co-sponsor who fought to put the bill on the national Democratic platform, was keen to remind Latinos that Heller’s record is anti-immigrant.

On top of the candidates’ own campaigns, Latinos in Nevada were targeted by grassroots efforts to mobilize them to vote—and Astroturfed efforts to keep them from the polls.  Latinos in Nevada demonstrated their commitment to their civic rights by turning out in large numbers, and their overwhelming support for Berkley showed they couldn’t be fooled by “outreach” that hid an anti-immigrant record. While the Latino vote wasn’t enough to overcome Berkley’s weakness elsewhere, Nevada Latinos’ role in securing the state for President Obama in the presidential race should be enough to persuade Dean Heller that next time he’s up for re-election, he had better have more than a softly-lit ad on hand to appeal to Latino voters.

For more, see America’s Voice’s Spotlight on Nevada.


WIN FOR IMMIGRANTS: New Mexico (open seat)

Candidates: Rep. Martin HEINRICH (D) v. former Rep. Heather Wilson (R)

Rating: Lean Democratic (Cook Political Report, 10/4/12)

Latino Eligible Voter Population: 41.5% (Teixeira/Frey)

Asian Voting Age Population: 2.2% (Center for American Progress)

Final vote: Heinrich 51.0%/Wilson 45.4%

Latino vote:  Heinrich 77%/Wilson 22%

(“Latino vote” is taken from Latino Decisions’ election-eve poll.)

New Mexico as a state has the single highest percentage of Latino voters in the nation—four out of ten eligible voters there are Latino.  In the election to replace retiring Democratic Senator Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico voters had a choice between a pro-immigration reform, pro-DREAM Act champion and a candidate who had backed away from support of pro-immigrant positions.

Senator-elect Martin Heinrich (D) represented New Mexico’s 1st District before winning Bingaman’s seat. During his campaign, he led an effort to ensure that the DREAM Act would be included in the Democrats’ national platform.  On August 15th, the first day that DREAMers could apply for President Obama’s new deferred action policy, Heinrich put up a page on his House website encouraging them to call his office for help with their applications.  Former Rep. Heather Wilson (R)—whom Heinrich replaced in the House—co-sponsored a version of the DREAM Act in 2003 but moved to the right in her final years in the House, apparently in preparation for a tough primary battle in her first Senate campaign in 2008.  When running for Senate, Wilson has refused to take a position on either the DREAM Act or deferred action.  While the race was initially expected to be close, in the months leading up to the election it became clear that Heinrich had the edge and would win the election—not least because of his support from Latinos.


WIN FOR IMMIGRANTS: Virginia (open seat)

Candidates: Former Governor Tim KAINE (D) v. former Governor and former Senator George Allen (R)

Rating: Toss Up (Cook Political Report, 10/4/12)

Latino Eligible Voter Population: 3.1% (Teixeira/Frey)

Asian Voting Age Population: 3.6% (Center for American Progress)

Final vote: Kaine 52.5%/Allen 47.5%

Latino vote:  Kaine 70%/Allen 29%

(“Latino vote” is taken from Latino Decisions’ election-eve poll.)

Although Latino voters only make up 3.1% of Virginia’s eligible voters, every vote matters here.  According to Latino Decisions, between 2000 and 2010, the number of Latino voters in Virginia grew by 76%.  Both the U.S. Senate and the Presidential race were very close—but in both cases, the Democrats came out ahead, thanks to support from Latino voters as well as African-American and Asian voters.

Senator-elect Tim Kaine has been a vocal supporter of comprehensive immigration reform for years.  Under his leadership, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) finally began to prioritize the issue, regularly putting out strong statements in favor of common sense immigration solutions and criticizing extremism on the part of the GOP.  In his Senate campaign, Kaine once again leaned into immigration solutions.  The issue was featured prominently on his campaign website and in this TV ad, which featured the candidate speaking about it in fluent Spanish.

As Univision points out, 36% of Virginia Latino voters are naturalized citizens who have personally navigated the complicated immigration system.  For them, the contrast between Kaine and George Allen on immigration couldn’t have been greater.  As a U.S. Senator, Allen voted against the McCain-Kennedy immigration reform bill, which passed the Senate in 2006 with the support of 23 Republicans and 39 Democrats.  When President Obama decided to stop the deportation of young students known as DREAMers in June, Kaine applauded the move while Allen blasted it.  According to ABC News, Allen said: “For blatant political purposes President Obama is ignoring the proper Constitutional responsibilities of elected representatives and making it more difficult to enact reasonable long-term immigration reforms. This short-term ploy is disappointing in that it disregards the proper role of case-by-case judgment in these individual matters.”