Arizona's new immigration law has drawn a pronounced backlash nationwide, but the political fallout could be most acute in Nevada, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid faces an uphill battle for reelection.
Reid will ultimately face an opponent who supports Arizona's new law, no matter who wins the multi-way primary to challenge him. GOP frontrunners Sue Lowden, Danny Tarkanian, and Sharron Angle all support it. Here's how the Las Vegas Sun's Michael Mishak described
the immigration discussion among the Republican candidates at a Friday debate:
On immigration, the candidates tried to one-up each other, heaping praise on Arizona and its tough new law that would force immigrants to carry identifying papers and require police to question the immigration status of anyone suspected of being in the country illegally. Critics have raised concerns that the law will lead to widespread racial profiling, but that controversy went unmentioned.
Reid has signaled that he wants to move forward on comprehensive immigration reform in the Senate. Whether a bill will get passed by November is an open question, and, given that immigration reform fell apart the last time Congress tried to take it up (in a 2007 push led by John McCain and Ted Kennedy), it looks to be a difficult feat, especially in an election year. Senate Democrats have circulated
a draft proposal, but last week key Republicans said they hadn't seen it, and it appeared to be a far cry from a bipartisan starting point.
While Arizona's new law undoubtedly has its supporters in Nevada, a full 24.3 percent of Nevadans are Hispanic, according to the Almanac of American Politics. The new law is opposed forcefully by Latino advocates, and the Hispanic vote could turn out for Reid in backlash against it.
Not all of Reid's GOP challengers are supporting Arizona's law without qualifications. (See a Las Vegas Sun breakdown
of where the candidates stand.) Sue Lowden, for instance--who leads the GOP field in polls--echoes a popular Republican talking point, namely that the new law is an answer to the federal government's failure on border security. Lowden notes that "racial profiling should never be utilized and is not legal."
But the new law has already sparked a broader discussion of immigration policy. Between now and November, Reid will have a chance to pit his more moderate stance against the border-security-centric views of a Republican challenger. While Lowden may qualify her stance on Arizona's law with statements about the federal government's failure, Reid has the chance to use his explicit opposition to whip up support from Hispanics.
Especially if Reid appears to be making good on Democratic promises of comprehensive reform, the immigration issue could save his seat in 2010. If not, Nevada voters will hear even more about federal inaction on border security--and Reid's failure to secure a policy change from his position of power in the Senate.