American Immigration Lawyers Association’s 2006 Election Analysis
Mid-term election races are typically suffused
with a blend of local and national issues and concerns. As a result,
analyzing the election outcomes through the lens of a single issue
often presents difficulties. To some degree, however, this year
represents an exception with regard to a central AILA issue:
immigration reform. A number of House, Senate (and Governor)
immigration hard-liners tried to make illegal immigration a wedge
electoral issue. The election results highlight how badly their gambit
The rigid, impractical position on undocumented immigration set
forth by hard-liners failed both generally (as it faded down the list
of top national voter issues) and specifically (as high profile
candidates who tried to leverage their hard-line approach into a wedge
issue lost a majority of races). We take heart from the following
specific election results:
J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ), one of the most vocal “seal the border, repel
the hordes” hard-liners lost his re-election bid (46-51%) in Arizona
(5th), a district he won by 21% two years ago!
Minuteman Randy Graf (R) lost his bid to replace Jim Kolbe in
Arizona’s 8th District by an overwhelming margin (42-54%). He ran on
his hard-line views against Democratic opponent Gabrielle Giffords, who
supports comprehensive reform along the lines of the Senate-passed
comprehensive bill. The national elections gave truth to Graf’s recent
observation along the lines of: “If this issue doesn’t play well in
this district, it won’t play well anywhere in the country.”
John Hostettler (R-IN) also lost resoundingly, taking only 39% of
the vote in Indiana’s 8th District. Hostettler was one of the most
high-profile hard-liners in the House. He has been the Chairman of the
House Immigration Subcommittee and led a number of the summer hearings.
Bruce Braley (D) defeated Mike Whalen (R) in an open seat in Iowa’s
1st District. Whalen ran on a hard-line, pro-H.R. 4437 platform and
accused his opponent of supporting amnesty.
In Colorado’s 7th District, Ed Perlmutter (D) beat Rick O’Donnell
(54-42%) for Representative Beauprez’s open seat, despite O’Donnell’s
attacks on Perlmutter as a supporter of amnesty.
Melissa Hart (R-PA), a member of the House Immigration Subcommittee,
who had been a staunch supporter of H.R. 4437 and a committed opponent
of comprehensive reform, also lost her reelection bid.
Key Senate Races:
Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) lost by a huge margin (41-59%).
Santorum had pounded his opponent, Democratic challenger Bob Casey, on
Casey’s support for comprehensive immigration reform in debates and
with inflammatory advertisements.
Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) prevailed (53-45%) over his challenger,
Tom Kean, who strongly opposed comprehensive immigration reform.
Senator Menendez has the distinction of being the only Member of
Congress to both vote against H.R. 4437 and for S. 2611!
Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) easily fought back (60-38%) a challenger,
Katherine Harris, who unsuccessfully attempted to leverage Nelson’s
support for comprehensive reform into a wedge issue.
Senator Carper (D-DE) resoundingly defeated (70-29%) single-issue
restrictionist candidate, Jan Ting. Carper supported a comprehensive
solution and voted in favor of S. 2611 while Ting, a former INS
official, rejected it as “amnesty.”
In Arizona, Democrat Janet Napolitano handily beat (63-35%) her
Republican challenger Len Munsil. Napolitano has been in the vanguard
of governors supporting a realistic, comprehensive solution to our
In Colorado, Democrat Bill Ritter defeated (56-41%) hard-liner
Republican Bob Beauprez, who had vacated his U.S. House seat for a run
at the governor’s mansion. As a Member of the House, Beauprez voted
against AILA’s position on virtually every issue and attempted to
leverage his hard-line stance on immigration into a winning electoral
strategy in his gubernatorial bid.
The final results in the House look like this: Democrats took
control by a 230-205 margin, winning 12 more seats than they needed to
gain control. The final Senate results are not in yet. Democrats gained
at least 5 Senate seats, with the results of the Virginia Senate
election still outstanding. Currently, Democrat Jim Webb appears to
have a slight lead over Republican incumbent George Allen, but a
recount of the Virginia race will probably be necessary because of the
razor-thin margins. If Webb wins the Virginia seat, Democrats will
control the Senate by a 51-49 margin (including two independents who
will caucus with them). If Allen is re-elected, the Senate will be
split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats, but Republicans will
maintain their majority, since Vice President Cheney, as President of
the Senate, casts the tie-breaking vote.
While these results will mean positive changes in leadership in the
House (and possibly the Senate) on immigration issues, they by no means
signify that it will be easy to obtain positive and comprehensive
immigration reform through the Congress in the coming two years. We
lost two Republican moderates in the Senate who had strongly supported
comprehensive immigration reform–Senators DeWine (OH) and Chafee (RI)
– and 60 votes will be needed to pass any controversial legislation. In
the House, many of the victors are conservative Democrats, and the
looming 2008 presidential election will mean that both parties will be
“tacking” strongly to the center. Please see Fareed Zakaria’s article
in the November 13 issue of Newsweek
(http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15566722/site/newsweek/from/ET/) for a
good analysis of the prospects for immigration reform in the new
We hope that both parties will take seriously the fact that
immigration restrictionists lost badly yesterday. We will also be
looking at some of the close races to determine the strength of the
We will be working very hard to try to get some meaningful H and EB
relief next week during the potentially short “lame duck” session. It
is not yet clear whether Congress will actually try to pass any
appropriations bills or whether they will merely pass a “continuing
resolution” and leave the legislating until 2007. We will keep you