Is Immigration The GOP’s New Wedge Issue ?
According to a Washington Post report, the Republican Party may have found an issue it can ride to electoral success:
When Republican Jim Ogonowski launched his long-shot bid for Congress, he prepared for an upbeat campaign in his Democratic, working-class district of Massachusetts, based on a winning r¿sum¿: affable hay farmer, former Air Force lieutenant colonel, and brother of an American Airlines pilot whose hijacked plane slammed into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
But by last month, although opinion polling showed that he was well liked, he was still running 10 points behind Democrat Niki Tsongas with just weeks to go before a special election. The campaign needed a way to go beyond biography, to persuade Northern Massachusetts to vote Republican. They found it in illegal immigration.
“This issue has real implications for the country. It captures all the American people’s anger and frustration not only with immigration, but with the economy,” said Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus and an architect of the Democratic congressional victories of 2006. “It’s self-evident. This is a big problem.”
Republicans, sensing a major vulnerability, have been hammering Democrats, forcing Congress to face the question of illegal immigration on every bill they can find, from agriculture spending and housing assistance to the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).
And, at least according to the polls, its a strategy that appears to be working:
A new national poll for National Public Radio, conducted by the Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, and the Republican firm Public Opinion Strategies, found that voters are more likely to side with Democrats than Republicans on war, taxes and spending, the economy, health care and health insurance for children, often by wide margins. On immigration, the Republicans hold a 49 to 44 percent lead.
But even that might be deceptively tight, said Glen Bolger, a partner with Public Opinion Strategies. In the poll, the GOP position was framed as getting control of the border, requiring illegal immigrants to reenter the country legally, stopping illegal immigrants from getting government benefits and sending illegal immigrants who are criminals packing. The Democratic position was, “It is impractical to expel 12 million people, but we need tougher controls at the borders, tougher penalties on employers who hire illegal immigrants and we should bar illegal immigrants from getting most government benefits, while allowing the law-abiding immigrants to get on a long path to citizenship.”
That Democratic message is much tougher than the one most voters are hearing, Bolger argued. “They’re actually in worse shape than they think they are,” he said.
So, could the Republican Party turn illegal immigration into a wedge issue that could turn their electoral fortunes around in 2008 ? As improbable as it might seem given the fortunes of the Bush Administration, it certainly seems possible.