Immigrant advocates are declaring that the anti-immigrant forces are on the run, pointing to the unpredicted electoral losses suffered by Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-NC) and Hazelton, Pennsylvania’s immigrant-bashing mayor Lou Barletta.
Clearly, anti-immigrant politics is no sure path to electoral victory, especially if it is the central message -- a lesson that the Republicans should have learned from their 2006 losses. But neither was it the case that the victories of Dole’s and Barletta’s opponents were primarily due to their pro-immigrant, pro-immigration positions.
In North Carolina, Dole’s loss was mainly due to surge in those who voted straight-ticket Democratic. According to post-election analysis by Dr. Michael Bitzer, associate professor of political science at Catawba College in North Carolina, the 52-44% victory of state senator Kay Hagan over incumbent Dole would have been a 51-49% victory for Dole without the straight ticket votes. Also, the heavy early voting, central to Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's grassroots effort to get people registered and to the polls, heavily favored Hagan in the state.
According to Bitzer, Hagan led among these one-stop absentee voters by a 57-43% spread. On election day, Hagan outpolled Dole by only 52% to 48%.
In the end, Dole lost her seat mostly because of "the Obama factor" and his campaign's "tidal wave of organization," which helped other Democratic candidates in statewide races, Bitzer said. Bitzer said exit polls showed that 61% of N.C. voters identified the economy as their biggest issue or concern.
Illegal immigration – the centerpiece of Dole’s immigrant-bashing campaign – “didn’t even make the list,” said Bitzer.
Clearly, the defeat of Dole was a major victory for Democrats, who will now occupy a seat that the Republicans have occupied since the first electoral victory of Jesse Helms in 1972.
According to analysis by the Swing State Project, Dole chose to run on what she regarded as a popular social issue, namely ending illegal immigration, but with the onset of the financial and economic crises and newspapers started pointing to Dole’s carpetbagger status, polls showed her dropping fast in the last weeks of the campaign.
Hagan’s immigration platform was not as well-defined as that of Dole, whose first television ad featured fear mongering about Latino immigrants by county sherrifs. But Hagan did say that she supported stronger border security and employer sanctions, and she offered qualified support for the 287(g) program of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which enlists local police and deputies in enforcing immigration law. Hagan said that the program should be fully funded by ICE, saying that local governments are now paying for part of the federal-local enforcement program.
While Dole charted out a strong anti-“amnesty” position, Hagan, while not promoting a strong comprehensive reform position, did say that she supported bringing illegal immigrants “out of the shadow economy” and advocate reforms in guestworker programs.
Dole, given an “A” on her “immigration report card” by the anti-immigration NumbersUSA, won’t be missed by immigration advocates, but Hagan probably cannot be counted on to back a reform bill that includes legalization. The backlash against immigration in North Carolina, one of the largest per capita recipients of immigrants in the last eight years, is just too strong and widespread for Hagan to ignore.
The defeat of Hazelton mayor Lou Barletta by incumbent Paul Kanjorski for Pennsylvania’s 11th congressional district is being widely hailed by pro-immigration groups as a signal that immigration restrictionism is on the wane. Barletta, a restrictionist hero for his drive to rid Hazelton of illegal immigrants, was polling 5-10 points ahead of Kanjorski until the final weeks of the campaign, when Kanjorski started to erode Barletta’s lead as the economy became more of an issue.
Barletta had berated Kanjorski for his support for comprehensive immigration reform and legalization. However, Kanjorski started to move to the right on immigration issues as the race progressed. He bucked Democratic leadership, signing the discharge petition for the tough immigration enforcement bill pushed by Republicans, the SAVE Act, and started taking a tougher position on the campaign trail against immigration. Late in the campaign, the Scranton Times ran an election report headlined "Kanjorski, Barletta see immigration similarly."
Kanjorski campaign manager Ed Mitchell said campaign’s polls showed the importance of Barletta’s immigration stance waned as the election neared due to the souring economy. “People had other things on their minds,” he said. “In October and November it was the economy, the economy, the economy.”
Photo: Sen. Elizabeth Dole