GOP accused of using immigration as wedge issue
By Eunice Moscoso and Jessica Wehrman

Staff Writer

Sunday, August 03, 2008

WASHINGTON — Immigration is having an impact on congressional campaigns across the country — from Ohio to North Carolina — and more will follow, according to political analysts and experts on both sides of the immigration debate.

In Ohio, Republican Fred Dailey hopes to upend freshman Rep. Zack Space, D-Dover, by challenging him on the immigration issue.

Dailey's campaign manager, Sean Bartley, said Space ran on a platform opposing illegal immigration in 2006, but has ultimately proven soft on the issue in a series of crucial votes.

Space, whose district was carried twice by George W. Bush, states a clear position on his Web site. "He (Space) remains adamant that any proposal to address the immigration crisis should not provide a gift to immigrants who have already broken the law," it says. "Such an action would burden American taxpayers and increase competition for jobs."

Republicans like Dailey will try to use immigration as a wedge issue in 2008, predicted Frank Sharry, president of America's Voice, an immigrant advocate group that is monitoring political campaigns. "They're hoping that by talking tough and trying to define Democrats as soft (on illegal immigration), that it will mobilize more of their base and maybe even win swing voters."

Sharry believes the strategy will not work and will also alienate Hispanics, a key voting bloc in many congressional districts.

But Roy Beck, president of Numbers USA, a group that advocates lower levels of immigration and stronger border controls, said illegal immigration — and its economic impact — remains a top concern in many districts, especially those where Democratic freshmen represent conservative areas.

"In the battlegrounds, immigration will be an issue," he said.

Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., has made immigration a centerpiece in her re-election campaign. Her first television ad touted a program that helps local police partner with federal agencies to identify, apprehend and deport illegal immigrants convicted of crimes.

But immigrant advocates say using immigration as a wedge isn't always successful. They point to the defeat earlier this year of Republican Jim Oberweis in a special election to replace former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who retired. Oberweis focused heavily on illegal immigration, saying in a television ad that "illegal aliens are coming here to take American workers' jobs, drive down wages and take advantage of government benefits such as free health care." Oberweis lost to Democrat Bill Foster, but is running again for the seat.

Sharry said immigrant advocates and Hispanic groups will be closely monitoring campaign ads and literature from across the country to expose anything they deem racist or xenophobic.

"The sneaky hand of the nasty mailer will be uncovered much more quickly in the Internet age," he said.