Tuesday, November 29, 2005

GOP weighs weaponized immigration issue in 2006 governor's race

Facing a strong Democratic governor, Tennessee Republicans are considering an immigration attack. Talk show host Steve Gill said in this Tennessean article that immigration is a "vibrant issue" that could be used against Governor Phil Bredesen for his reelection bid in 2006.

"Gill said a Republican candidate could hammer Bredesen with questions about illegal immigration."

"'There's not a more vibrant issue' than illegal immigration, Gill said. 'But Bredesen is not tuned in to the animosity.'"

Memphis-to-Nashville Republican Representative Marsha Blackburn, who successfully used the immigration issue to capture her seat in Washington, was quoted yesterday in this MSNBC article as saying that Americans "are tired of talk and ready for action” on immigration.

As the MSNBC article indicates, the Republican Party is generally split about how to address immigration, and some Republicans fear that divisive immigration rhetoric is counterproductive. In this recent column published in the Washington Post, former Bush White House official Leslie Sanchez points to the recent Virginia gubernatorial race as a warning against "ham-fisted attacks":

"Republicans nationally should draw a number of lessons from the party's unsuccessful effort to take back the Virginia governor's mansion this month."

"When it comes to immigration, dropping the word 'illegal' into any anti-immigration proposal is not likely to work electoral magic."

"In his stump speeches and in his television ads, Kilgore hit his Democratic opponent, Tim Kaine, on the immigration issue but was careful to use the word 'illegal' in his rhetoric at every turn, as if that alone were some kind of magic bullet."

"This is the stuff of GOP consultants and pollsters, who advise that even legal immigrants are opposed to 'illegal' immigration. That's true, of course: Nobody defends those who flout the law, and resentment is especially acute among those who have gone to extreme lengths to comply. What these advisers miss, however, is the question of intensity: Substantial numbers of immigrants (not to mention their children and grandchildren, too) hear attacks on 'illegal' immigration as attacks on them -- so that a discussion of, say, day laborers can quickly turn into an anti-Hispanic free-for-all."

"Republicans would do well to recognize the folly in the approach used by Kilgore before recommending it to other candidates. Rather than a comprehensive approach to the problem broadly defined as immigration, they would do well to break it down into its constituent parts: border security, public policies that inhibit assimilation, the issue of guest workers and the problem of illegal immigration itself. It is time to recognize that the problem may be too big and too complex to approach with one big bill."

"Ham-fisted attacks by Kilgore and others on illegal immigrants, while political red meat for some, cause many in our coalition -- particularly Hispanics and suburban women -- to recoil. For them, such attacks run counter to the Reaganite image of America as a welcoming land of opportunity, a place where anyone can -- through hard work, smarts and a little luck -- pursue happiness as the Founding Fathers intended. Immigrants from around the world made this country, and immigrants will continue to make this country a better place, a fact that no great political party can ignore for long."

As reported here on HispanicNashville.com, Leslie Sanches was the keynote speaker for the Franklin County Republican Club’s Reagan Day Dinner on October 22, 2005.

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