Our guest blogger is Henry Fernandez, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund focusing on state and municipal policy.
When Utah Congressman Chris Cannon lost the Republican primary last week to Jason Chaffetz, anti-immigrant groups were quick to define it as an example of a candidate winning because of his restrictionist stance. They were desperate because all of the recent election news has been bad for the anti-immigrant crowd, including recent losses in once über-red House districts in Illinois and Mississippi.
Roy Beck, the head honcho of NumbersUSA — a leading organization opposed to legal immigration — told the Orange County Register:
Cannon’s loss was an outburst of Republican frustration with the minority of Republican office-holders who stand in the Bush-McCain amnesty camp.
And this from Michelle Malkin:
…the simple fact is that voters finally got fed up with Cannon’s constant water-carrying for La Raza and MALDEF…
Unfortunately, the AP parroted the anti-immigrants’ talking points, but gave no facts to back up this assertion. Facts lead to a very different conclusion in a race where voters were so dissatisfied that only ten percent of Republicans even bothered to show up.
It is true that while staunchly conservative on most matters, Cannon was a moderate on immigration. But what is apparently not true is that there was a connection between Cannon’s immigration moderation and his loss. In fact, Cannon’s last election had been against a much more zealous anti-immigrant hardliner and he won. It appears that, Cannon became identified as a DC insider who had lost touch with his district at a time when even conservative voters are swept up in the need for change.
Brigham Young University’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy exit-polled voters. While Cannon did lose those who disagreed with him on immigration, he lost those voters in his prior election as well – and no more of them turned out this time around. What changed this time was that he lost voters who agreed with him on immigration. According to the Salt Lake Tribune:
Roughly the same number of voters who were highly concerned about immigration in 2006, when Cannon won his last primary, showed up this time, when Cannon got whipped. Exit poll results show that more of those who said they had a tougher view on undocumented immigrants voted for Cannon’s opponent, Jason Chaffetz, but a majority of those who backed plans like a guest-worker program also favored Chaffetz. … Also, overall, 70 percent of respondents said Chaffetz was the best person to change Washington, while 30 percent picked Cannon.
It is not surprising that folks like Beck and Malkin would jump to erroneous conclusions about immigration and politics. They have made a profession of doing so.