When a Democratic Senate candidate, a darling of Hollywood liberals, starts attacking Republicans over supporting amnesty, you know something is going on, even if it is in a red state.
Allison Grimes, who says she supports a pathway to citizenship for millions of illegal aliens, was “caught” running an ad in Kentucky attacking Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for voting to give “amnesty” to 3 million “illegal aliens” – in 1986. The ad was unlisted on her YouTube account, and since garnering attention on the left has caused a major brouhaha on the left.
In New Hampshire, former-Sen. Scott Brown has made immigration a centerpiece of his campaign. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), suddenly in danger from independent businessman Greg Orman, went hard on immigration. Outside of Colorado, where Rep. Cary Gardner has run hard to his left on the issue, almost every GOP Senate candidate has attempted to seize on the issue.
Indeed, on a weekly conference call organized by the National Republican Senatorial Committee last Thursday, it was Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), perhaps Congress’ most outspoken amnesty opponent, briefing GOP campaigns across the country on messaging.
Behind the scenes, campaigns evaluating the polling are seeing unbelievable numbers on the issue that belie popular narratives about how popular comprehensive immigration reform is.
For example, Paragon Insights, a little-known firm that is on the NRSC’s payroll, asked respondents whether they would support a GOP Senate candidate who said “Immigration policy needs to serve the interests of the nation as a whole, not a few billionaire CEOs and immigration activists lobbying for open borders.”
Likely voters approved by a 71-16 margin. Women supported the sentiment 73-14, higher than men, wjp backed it 69-17. Obama’s opponents supported it 82-12, but even Obama supporters gave it 61-21 nod. Liberals supported it 59-21.
Most surprising, self-identified Hispanics supported it 66-21.
Another question measured support for the idea that “The first goal of immigration policy needs to be getting unemployed Americans back to work – not importing more low-wage workers to replace them.”
Like the other question, the response was enthusiastic.
Likely voters: 70-18 in favor. Men: 67-20. Women: 73-17. Liberals: 54-29. Independents: 70-15. Whites: 72-16. Hispanics: 59-32.
Of every subgroup listed on the cross tabs, the lowest support came from Democratic Men, who said the sentiment would make them more likely to vote for a Republican senate candidate by a 52-31 margin.
The sample size of the poll, conducted at the end of September, was 1,605, giving the cross tabs more statistical heft than they would have under a smaller size.
Still, a GOP pollster who reviewed the data cautioned that polling “messaging” like this is relatively difficult for several reasons.
First, most sound bytes engender support by nature. They’re sentences crafted to frame positions on issues in ways that sound eminently reasonable.
Secondly, the two sentences above strike at a populist economic take on immigration that has not been used in “the wild” of campaigns very much, meaning its effect could change depending on how opponents respond to it.
Typically, immigration is discussed in terms of “border security” on the one hand, and how to address millions of illegal aliens already residing in the U.S. on the other.
The textbook Democratic (or Republican) response to an attack from the right on immigration is to heavily embrace border security while claiming that granting citizenship to illegal aliens isn’t amnesty. GOP operative watching the races say ads like this one from Mark Pryor have been popping up all over the country.
Male narrator: [quoting John McCain] “Anyone who calls it amnesty is not being intellectually honest.”
Female narrator: Mark Pryor voted the same way as John McCain and many other Republican senators.
Pryor: Secure the border first.
Male narrator: Pryor voted no amnesty.
Female narrator: 20,000 new border agents.
Male narrator: A 700 mile fence.
Female narrator: And a long term solution.
Pryror: It’s tough, but fair.
Male narrator: While Congressman Cotton voted to cut funding for the border protection and play politics with our border security.
That response often flummoxes GOP politicians who don’t have a ready made explanation for what constitutes “amnesty” or how they would deal with the 12 million illegal aliens in the U.S.
The two lines measured in the Paradigm poll offer a second, economic dimension to the issue that could allow Republicans to transcend the “border security” debate and focus on a more favorable terrain while capturing support among “blue collar” voters strategists have been searching for ways to reach.
That’s also evident in another recent private poll that GOP operatives have been reviewing from the Polling Company’s Kellyanne Conway.
“Immigration is an issue unto itself AND as part of an overall economic message,” Conway’s poll memo says.
“77% believe U.S. born workers and legal immigrants already in the country should be given preference for jobs over new legal immigrants (89% agree over illegal immigrants),” Conway adds.
Pryor actually used another ad that used the same type of idea on another issue, this one focusing on corporate tax breaks.
“Tired of buying clothes from China, refrigerators from Mexico, and oil from the Middle East? We need to stand up for American jobs and make more products in Arkansas again. That’s why I fought to end the tax break corporations get for sending American jobs overseas,” Pryor says with an American flag backdrop.
Republicans may have been reluctant to employ their own version of this economic populism for a variety of reasons. Free trade and the idea that immigration will increase the size of the economy, even if marginally depressing wages, has been entrenched in the conservative policy world for years, even decades. And many of the high-end donors that fund GOP campaigns would balk at being on the end of a “billionaires for open borders” ad, whether they’re actual billionaires or not.
But will polls like these, how much longer will Republicans resist the urge to fully embrace the issue?