Iraq was clearly the election issue that turned the tide against Republicans, but one issue that many GOP activists thought might save the day ended up a bust: immigration.
Hard-liners in the House stopped comprehensive immigration reform in its tracks this summer, dealing a blow to the White House. Then they argued this was good for Republicans because Americans put illegal immigration at the top of their policy agenda and had no interest in comprehensive reform. Judging from the election results, the hard-liners were wrong.
In several high-profile races where illegal immigration was a key issue, the anti-immigrant candidate lost big. In Arizona, the front line in the immigration wars, Republicans J.D. Hayworth and Randy Graf lost handily to more moderate voices. Hayworth, a six-term congressman, once favored a guest worker program but flip-flopped when he sensed bashing immigrants was a surer ticket to re-election.
In his book "Whatever It Takes: Illegal Immigration, Border Security and the War on Terror," Hayworth called for a three-year ban on legal immigration from Mexico, which would devastate the U.S. agricultural community and hurt other industries as well. Apparently voters in Arizona's 5th Congressional District wanted no part of Hayworth's proposed ban.
Graf, a former state representative and member of the extremist Minuteman Project, was even more off base. Graf supported calls to reinstate "Operation Wetback," a 1950s federal deportation program that not only rounded up thousands of illegal aliens but also ensnared some U.S. citizens of Mexican descent. Graf's position garnered him only 42 percent of the vote in a reliably conservative district.
In Colorado, Republicans' anti-immigrant stance may have cost them the governor's race in addition to one congressional seat. Rep. Bob Beauprez, the Republican who gave up his seat to run for governor, claimed that illegal immigration would prove to be Democrat Bill Ritter's "Achilles' heel" and spent much of the last few weeks of the campaign hammering away on the issue. But Colorado's agricultural economy is heavily dependent on immigrant workers (including illegal aliens), and Ritter's pro-guest worker position helped him win 56 percent of the vote.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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