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  1. #1
    Administrator Jean's Avatar
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    May 2006

    Immigration reform could play a key role in Senate races

    By Erin Kelly Gannett Washington Bureau Mon Mar 10, 2014 12:14 AM

    WASHINGTON -- Immigration reform could play a key role this year in about a half-dozen Senate races from Colorado to South Carolina.

    The outcome of those races will help decide which party controls the Senate and whether that chamber will be willing to take up immigration reform again if the House fails to pass it in this session of Congress.

    Democrats now have 53 seats in the Senate and the support of two independents who nearly always vote with them. Republicans hold 45 seats.

    The Senate last year passed a sweeping, bipartisan bill that included provisions to beef up security at the southwest border while also offering a pathway to citizenship for many of the nation's 12 million undocumented immigrants.

    If the House doesn't act before the current two-year session of Congress ends in January, the Senate immigration bill will expire and efforts to enact reform will have to begin again.

    Two of the Republicans who voted for the comprehensive bill last summer -- Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee -- are facing primary challenges from tea party candidates who have denounced the senators' support for reform. Graham may be a bigger target because he was one of the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" senators who helped craft the Senate bill.

    In Georgia, where the retirement of Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss has left an open seat, GOP candidates are battling each other over who is the biggest opponent of the Senate bill. The three House members running in the primary are all on record as favoring the deportation of "dreamers" -- young immigrants brought to the United States as children.

    At the same time, Democratic Sens. Mark Udall of Colorado, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana are facing strong competition from Republicans who oppose a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. All of the Senate Democrats voted for the bill last summer.

    The Colorado race that pits Udall against Republican Rep. Cory Gardner could be the biggest test of all for the power of immigration reform to sway voters, said Jennifer Duffy, who analyzes Senate races as senior editor for the non-partisan Cook Political Report.

    Gardner has denounced the Senate bill that Udall supported as "amnesty for illegal immigrants" and said it will only encourage more illegal immigration. Gardner also has opposed the Dream Act, which would allow some immigrants brought to the United States as children to become citizens. He voted for a bill by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, to cut off funding for an Obama administration program that stopped the deportation of the young immigrants.

    "I can see immigration playing a major role in Colorado," Duffy said. "Democrats will certainly use it to try to turn out Hispanic voters, and Democrats have done well in the state in recent elections. But it's far from a done deal for Udall. Colorado isn't a solid Democratic state. I can see room for a Republican to win."

    It may be the only race where the incumbent views his support for immigration reform as a likely boost to his campaign. About 14 percent of eligible voters in Colorado are Hispanic, and Latino voters proved crucial in 2010 in re-electing Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet.

    "There's no doubt this is going to be an extremely close race," said Craig Hughes, a partner at at Hilltop Public Solutions and campaign manager for Bennet in 2010. "But I think the Latino vote will be decisive for Udall's victory."

    Latino voters, who usually favor Democrats, won't be much help to Graham and Alexander in their respective Republican primaries, where both are under attack for voting for earned citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

    But business leaders who support the Senate legislation have come out strongly for the senators, and conservative evangelical pastors are preaching the importance of immigration reform at pulpits throughout the South.

    "The Chamber is proud to have supported Senators Graham and Alexander in the past because of their strong support of American free enterprise, and we will continue to stand with them," said Blair Latoff Holmes, executive director of media relations for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

    In South Carolina, Matthew Blanton, an organizer for the Evangelical Immigration Table, said a growing number of Baptist preachers and other Southern pastors are supporting the cause of immigration reform and urging their congregations to do the same.

    Blanton's group does not get involved in congressional campaigns, but he said the message the pastors are spreading could end up helping Republican senators such as Graham and Alexander with conservative evangelical Christians.
    "When we talk about the issue, people know that Senator Graham made a bold move by being part of the Gang of Eight," Blanton said.

    A spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) -- which opposed the Senate immigration reform bill -- said he believes Graham and Alexander will both win their primaries in part because of strong financial support from business groups.

    But spokesman Ira Mehlman also said Republican candidates such as Graham and Alexander are making a political miscalculation in the long run.

    "This idea out there among Republicans that if they suddenly get behind amnesty that Latinos will flock to them doesn't seem to be the case," Mehlman said. "I think for Republicans what they risk is alienating their own base by supporting amnesty and mass immigration increases without any real promise of gaining large numbers of Hispanic voters."

    Frank Sharry, founder and executive director of America's Voice immigrant rights group, said he believes what happens to Graham and Alexander will have a big impact on the Republican Party.

    "If the tea party wins those primaries, it will send shivers throughout the Republican establishment," Sharry said. "If the tea party loses and loses big as expected right now, it is going to show that the tea party has more bark than bite. And it will show other Republicans that you can support reform and win."

    Roy Beck, executive director of NumbersUSA, which opposed the Senate bill, said the Democratic senators from conservative states may be more at risk this election year for their support of immigration reform.

    He cited Pryor of Arkansas, Landrieu of Louisiana, and Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C. as examples of senators whose support for reform appears to go against the views of many of their constituents.

    The Cook Political Report lists Pryor's race as a "toss-up" and Landrieu and Hagan's races as "leaning" Democratic. The Colorado race was recently moved from "likely" Democratic to "leaning" Democratic after Gardner entered the race.

    "Their support for the big comprehensive immigration reform bill is a big vulnerable point for every one of these Democrats who are in competitive races," Beck said. "Will the Republicans in those races exploit that vulnerability? That I can't answer. But if they're intent on winning, they should."
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    Immigration reform Amnesty for illegal immigration could play a key role in Senate races
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