For the second time in as many years, immigration has fizzled as a wedge issue at the polls. In 2006, Republicans hoped to use anger over illegal immigration to maintain control of Congress, but failed miserably, losing races even in states like Arizona and Colorado that have experienced large influxes of illegal aliens.
This year, Virginia Republicans tried the same maneuver in state races, with the same results. The Virginia GOP lost control of the state Senate in Tuesday's election, with Democrats winning four additional seats in the Senate and netting an additional three in the House of Delegates, despite efforts to rile up voters on the illegal immigration front. In both cases, other issues dominated the election, and there simply weren't enough voters for whom immigration was the No. 1 issue to roll back an increasingly Democratic electoral tide.
Virginia is a particularly interesting case study. Demographics in the state have changed dramatically in the last 10 years, including large influxes of immigrants both legal and illegal. Northern Virginia, which includes the suburbs bordering Washington, D.C., is trending more and more Democratic, tipping the partisan balance in the state.
In Loudoun County where I live, growth has been explosive. As home prices in the Washington area skyrocketed, young families found the only affordable alternative was to move farther out, in some cases 50 or 60 miles from Washington to what was, less than a decade ago, rolling hillside and farm land.
The newcomers tended to be more moderate than hardcore conservative. As a result, a county that was once a reliable Republican bastion ousted four out of six incumbent Republicans on its nine-member governing board of supervisors on Tuesday. The big issue wasn't immigration but whether GOP supervisors were simply handmaidens of developers, who were building homes far faster than the county's infrastructure could support.
Immigration was a non-starter in Loudoun, despite an earlier move by the GOP-controlled board to pass a resolution aimed at illegal aliens. And while the sponsor of the resolution retained his seat, he won by barely 200 votes with very low turnout, despite spending more money than any other candidate for the board of supervisors.
The one race in the county where a challenger tried to make illegal immigration the big issue was for county sheriff. The incumbent, who had run in the past as a Republican, failed to get an endorsement from the state party this time because he was viewed as insufficiently tough on illegal aliens, forcing him to run as an Independent. His Republican challenger harped continuously on the illegal immigrant threat, but apparently few people cared.
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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