Political Pulse November 2006

Immigration: Election Issue Fade-Out

Neither party holds a clear advantage on the issue.
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Will the illegal immigration issue save the Republican majorities? Back in June, California Republican Brian Bilbray won a hotly contested election for a House seat by demanding tougher border security. Republicans thought they had their issue at last.

Voters' biggest complaint about illegal immigration? The burden on taxpayers. Gabrielle Giffords, who's running for Congress in Arizona's 8th District, put it this way: "There's a big concern right now that health care is not being delivered properly, that education is not being delivered properly, and that illegal immigrants are the beneficiaries of the taxpayers' dollars."

Giffords is a Democrat. By stressing her commitment to border security in a district bordering Mexico and heavily affected by illegal immigration, she's undercutting the appeal of her Republican opponent, who's running virtually a one-issue campaign on border security.

In Tennessee's Senate race, meanwhile, Democrat Harold Ford takes a hard line on border security. One of his television ads says, "Harold Ford Jr. will get control of our borders, get tough on illegals and employers who break the law." His Republican opponent, construction company owner Bob Corker, calls Ford a phony. A Corker ad claims that Ford "votes against border security and against putting troops on the border, then says he wants to fight illegal immigration." Who's calling whom a phony? According to Ford's ad, "The Immigration and Naturalization Service found illegal workers on Bob Corker's construction site while he looked the other way." Doesn't sound like a difference of positions here -- just a difference of who's tougher on the issue.

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William Schneider is the Cable News Network's senior political analyst. He is also a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., and a contributing editor for the Los Angeles Times, National Journal, and The Atlantic Monthly. His column appears every week in National Journal, a weekly magazine covering politics and government published in Washington, D.C.

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