More Republicans than ever are touting their anti-immigration positions, but Congressional candidates are learning the hard way that taking on such harsh rhetoric does little to win support in this election cycle. In the primary elections held Tuesday and the contests held two weeks ago, candidates who signed a pledge to vow to oppose “amnesty” have not fared well at all against candidates who did not sign this pledge.
In April, conservative radio host Laura Ingraham and the immigration-restrictionist group Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) collaborated to pressure Republican primary candidates to sign a “no-amnesty pledge,” which asks candidates to promise to oppose legislation that would grant any form of work authorization to undocumented immigrants and to oppose legislation that increases the overall number of immigrants and guest workers.
Recent primary results gathered by the Center for New Community suggest that supporting an anti-immigration stance does not readily rile up Republican voters as it had in 2010, when state-wide immigration enforcement efforts in Alabama and Arizona were welcomed. Sam Clovis, a Republican Senate candidate from Iowa, signed the FAIR pledge two weeks ago and criticized the Senate comprehensive immigration reform bill for offering amnesty, but he lost the primary election Tuesday night to another Republican candidate Joni Ernst who did not sign the pledge. Other FAIR pledge signers who lost to non-signers include Mississippi House candidate Ron Vincent who lost to Steve Palazzo, Montana House candidate Drew Turiano who trailed far behind Ryan Zinke, and Gerard McManus — the only New Jersey House candidate from the 1st District to sign the pledge — who lost to Garry Cobb.
The list of pledge signers who lost to non-signers also extends beyond Tuesday night’s election. Nebraska Senate candidate Shane Osborn signed the pledge and lost to non-pledge signer Ben Sasse who was criticized as “weak on immigration.” As Imagine 2050 pointed out, North Carolina House candidate Frank Roche signed the FAIR pledge, but lost to incumbent Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) who has openly emphasized “her support for some reform measures.” Imagine 2050 also has an interactive graphic that charts the anti-immigrant movement’s targeting of Ellmers, who “took the race by seventeen points.”
Though there are some races, particularly in Georgia, where pledge signers only ran against other pledge signers or where a pledge signer ran unopposed, in races that pitted a signer against a non-signer, supporters of the pledge lost nearly every primary race. In total*, 21 FAIR pledge signers lost to non-signers. Only two pledge signers have won so far in races where they were pitted against a non-signer.
One notable candidate who did perform well Tuesday night despite his support for the pledge is Mississippi Republican Senate candidate Chris McDaniel, who appears to have forced incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) into a runoff for his party’s nomination. There are also other ways that Republicans are showing that they’re tough on immigration without signing the pledge. Although he has not signed the pledge, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) has been sending out mailers to residents in his district touting his anti-immigration position. His opponent David Brat (R) has signed the pledge.
Nevertheless, national polls indicate that there is broad bipartisan support among Americans for an immigration reform bill that provides an eventual pathway to citizenship. According to FWD.us, six in ten Americans support a pathway to citizenship — despite some overlap, 51 percent of Republicans support citizenship, while 56 percent of Republicans support legal status. FWD.us also found that 81 percent of Republicans also support creating a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children. During the release of a new poll Tuesday, America Voice’s director Frank Sharry said on a press call with reporters Tuesday, “it seems that the GOP brand will go from tarnished to finished” if the Republican party does not act on immigration reform — deemed by pollsters to be a “gateway” issue for Latino voters.
*Four of the five FAIR pledge signers in California lost their primaries to non-pledge signers; four of the 14 pledge signers in signers in Georgia lost to non-pledge signers; four of the five pledge signers in North Carolina lost to non-pledge signers; six of the seven pledge signers in New Jersey lost to non-pledge signers; two of the three pledge signers in Oregon lost to non-pledge signers; one of two pledge signers in Pennsylvania lost to a non-pledge signer.