Thursday, December 14, 2006

Anti-Immigrant Position Costs GOP Another Seat

A runoff race in Texas' 23rd District has resulted in the ousting of Rep. Henry Bonilla (R) by former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D). The Hotline blog suggests Rodriguez' easy 55-45% victory over Bonilla had a lot to do with Bonilla's anti-immigrant stance. It writes:

Rep. Henry Bonilla’s (R-TX 23) loss last night confirms one of the Bush administration’s greatest fears: that a hard-line position on illegal immigration could cause Republicans long-term damage among the growing Latino vote.

Bonilla was a strong supporter of the tough-on-immigration measures sponsored by the Republicans. He voted for the construction of the 700-mile border fence, and supported Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner’s bill penalizing workers who hire illegal immigrants.

Based on the election results, it appears Latino voters – even among his previous supporters – turned on him and supported ex-Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D). In Maverick County (95% Hispanic), Bonilla won a miniscule 14% of the vote. By contrast, Bonilla carried the county in his comfortable 2004 win, and President Bush even performed respectably here in 2004 when he won 40%.

Val Verde County (76% Hispanic) has traditionally been a solidly pro-Bush, pro-Bonilla county. Bush carried it with 59% of the vote in 2004. But Bonilla barely carried it, only winning 51% there against Rodriguez.

By contrast, the majority-white counties in the district remained strongly pro-Bonilla. Medina County (45% Hispanic) overwhelmingly voted for Bonilla, giving him 68% of the vote. That’s not much of a dropoff from Bush’s 70% performance there in 2004.

On the day of the election Bonilla’s spokesman Phil Ricks expressed confidence that Hispanics were supportive of Bonilla’s stance on border security. “If you’re a legal citizen, you’re not in favor of illegal immigration. If you go through the process legally, illegal immigration insults you,” he said.

Hispanic voters didn’t see things the same way. And if Bonilla – the only Mexican-American Republican in Congress – takes this much of a hit among Latinos, Republicans have much to be concerned about looking ahead to 2008.
Republicans had better wise up to the political realities of how this issue is playing among Hispanic voters. A 2008 GOP presidential candidate cannot win without significant support from Hispanics. This bloc of voters saved Bush in his close races in 2000 and 2004.

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