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“As GOP Debate Comes to Boulder, a Clash of Ideas on Immigration”

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New Denver Post Piece Captures the Immigration Politics at Play in a State with a Surging Latino Population

Washington, DC – As all eyes focus in on the next GOP debate in Colorado, a new Denver Post piece discusses the fact that the politics of immigration in the state are a microcosm of the issue nationwide. In “As GOP debate comes to Boulder, a clash of ideas on immigration,” Mark Matthews of the Post writes:

“They won’t appear onstage in Boulder, but the presence of two Colorado Republicans — Tom Tancredo and Mike Coffman — is sure to resonate in the likely event the GOP presidential field turns its attention to immigration during the party’s next debate, Oct. 28.

“No Republican in the state is close to these two when it comes to defining the immigration fight inside the party, and to know their history is to understand why the issue continues to roil the GOP.

“Tancredo, once a presidential candidate himself, finished a close second last year to Bob Beauprez in the Republican primary for governor and was an immigration hard-liner long before Donald Trump entered the political arena.

“Conversely, Coffman’s run for the U.S. House in 2014 has been held aloft by some Republicans as a model on how to win in an increasingly diverse America. He softened — even flipped — his rhetoric on immigration, and like Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush, both of Florida, he speaks Spanish on the campaign trail.

“The divide between these two approaches is significant — as are the stakes of the Oct. 28 debate. The winner of this clash of ideas will go a long way toward determining the victor of the GOP primary and, ultimately, the odds that Republicans capture both the swing state of Colorado and the White House in 2016.”

Even bigger than the divide between Tancredo and Coffman–who has a history of anti-immigrant positions taken as recently as this year–is the divide between the Republican and Democratic fields in 2016 over the issue. Writes Matthews:

“A 2014 report by the research firm Latino Decisions estimated that ‘Hispanics account for 21 percent of the Colorado population and 14 percent of the eligible electorate.’ Those figures are expected to rise in the decades ahead, the authors noted.

“While these voters share many of the same concerns as other residents — such as education and the economy — the survey made the case that immigration remains a gateway issue: ‘Specifically, 63 percent of Colorado Hispanic voters personally know someone who is an undocumented immigrant.’

“It’s one reason why pundits and activists — and Democrats — have made the argument that Trump’s focus on immigrants and criminality runs the risk of turning off Latino voters from his candidacy, as well as Republican candidates generally…

“… ‘The appeals to the Republican primary electorate about a (border) wall and rapists and murderers — you don’t say that to win over Latino voters. You say that to win over a constituency that is not Latino,’ said Sylvia Manzano of Latino Decisions, whose firm is doing work for the Hillary Clinton campaign.

“Manzano argued that no matter who emerges from the GOP primary, the eventual nominee would be pulled down in the general election by Trump and the negative tenor of the debate.

“‘Even when you have someone who is Latino-friendly and genuine, the well (of distrust) is so deep, it will take a long time (for the Republican party) to crawl out of it,’ she said.”

Manzano’s comments beg the question: “What happens when members of the Latino, APIA, and immigrant community are attacked?” The answer is: They fight back. Directly before the next debate, Latino leaders, immigrants, and celebrities like Esai Morales and Dolores Huerta will hold a rally at CU Boulder to launch an unprecedented 12-month voter registration campaign and call on the next President to make passage of fair and comprehensive immigration reform a priority. Learn more about “My Country, My Vote” here.

Federico Pena, former Mayor of Denver and a former US Secretary of Transportation and Energy, is organizing the event. He told Matthews:

“‘For several months, I have been very frustrated that there has not been major pushback … against the very vitriolic rhetoric against immigrants,’ said organizer Federico Peña, a former Denver mayor who led the Transportation and Energy departments during the Bill Clinton administration.

“‘The goal is to take the anger — and there is a lot of anger — and transform it into something positive,’ he said.

“But Peña added this is about more than just rhetoric. It’s important that politicians get the policy right, too. Support for efforts such as the 2013 push for immigration — which many Colorado Republicans supported, according to one poll — is imperative, he said.

“As is the ability to resist the timeless political practice of division in which ‘a certain group is scapegoated and blamed for the economic woes of another group,’ he said.”

Pena’s event is non-partisan, because Colorado does not represent the new politics of immigration for the GOP. In fact, the state also shows what’s at stake for Democrats, depending on whether they show real leadership on the issue or not.

In 2010, Michael Bennet leaned in to the immigration issue and won his U.S. Senate race. He benefitted from the Latino firewall in the West that saved the Senate for the Democrats. In 2014, Democrats backtracked on immigration, and paid the price. After President Obama promised in June 2014 to take executive action on immigration ahead of the mid-term elections, he came under pressure from swing state Senate Democrats and decided to delay immigration executive action. Not only did this fail to save any of the Senators in tough swing states, the resulting Latino voter apathy in Colorado helped Republican Cory Gardner beat Democrat Mark Udall.

“What’s happening in Colorado on October 28th is a perfect microcosm of the immigration debate. Inside the debate hall, we’ll have a bunch of Republican candidates talking to the lowest common denominator on immigration, following the lead of Donald Trump. Outside the debate hall, we’ll have thousands of immigrants and their allies saying ‘enough is enough’ and showing some organizing muscle, getting ready to vote,” said Lynn Tramonte, Deputy Director of America’s Voice. “One group represents the past, and the other the future,” she concluded.