Anti-immigrant lawmakers vulnerable in November

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NewsAnalysis

The worst anti-immigrant bigots in the House of Representatives are grouped together in the House Immigration Reform Caucus (HIRC), the brainchild of Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.).

Of the 104 members of the HIRC — all Republicans — so many now find themselves or their would-be GOP successors (in the case of seats being vacated) threatened with defeat at the polls that their party’s leadership is beginning to sweat. The politically vulnerable caucus members could by themselves constitute the 15 flipped seats required for the Republicans to lose their majority in the House.

Beyond HIRC members who are vulnerable, there are other anti-immigrant GOP candidates who may lose. For example, in Arizona’s 8th Congressional District, the seat being vacated by Republican Congressman Jim Kolbe, which is being sought by the GOP’s Randy Graf, an anti-immigrant extremist and a member of the Minuteman vigilante organization, may go instead to Democrat Gabrielle Giffords, who favors a more comprehensive approach to immigration. Giffords is currently ahead in the polls.

The authoritative Cook Political Report says that, as of Sept. 20, the following seats currently held by Republican members of the Tancredo caucus are in play:

• Of the “toss-up” seats, meaning the race could go either way, none are currently held by Democrats, but 18 are held by Republicans. Of these, five are currently held by HIRC members: Bob Beauprez’s open (vacated) seat in Colorado’s 7th CD. The Democrat, Ed Perlmutter, has a good chance against Republican Rick O’Donnell. Henry Hyde’s open seat in the 6th CD in Illinois. The Republican, Peter Roskam, is viciously anti-immigrant, while the Democrat, Tammie Duckworth, is open to legalization for the undocumented. Geoff Davis in Kentucky’s 4th CD. Ken Lucas is the Democratic candidate. Charles Taylor in North Carolina’s 11th CD. Heath Shuler is the Democrat. Thelma Drake in Virginia’s 2nd CD. Phill Kellam is the Democrat.

• In the category of “leaning Republican,” which means that the Republican candidate is a little ahead but the Democrats have a very good chance of taking the seat, there are 16 seats, including four currently held by HIRC members. Incumbents include the following: anti-immigration extremist J.D. Hayworth in Arizona’s 5th CD. The Democratic candidate is Harry Mitchell. Charlie Bass in New Hampshire’s 2nd CD. The Democrat is Paul Hodes. John Sweeney in New York’s 20th CD. The Democrat is Kirsten Gillibrand. Randy Kuhl in New York’s 29th CD. The Democrat is Eric Massa.

• In the “likely Republican” column, which means that the Republicans will probably retain the seat but it is not “solid” or a sure thing, there are 18 seats, of which nine are currently held by HIRC members: John Doolittle in California’s 4th CD. The Democratic candidate is Charles Brown. Marilyn Musgrave in Colorado’s 4th CD. Angie Paccione is the Democrat. The open seat being vacated by Mike Bilirakis in Florida’s 9th CD: the Republican candidate is Gus Bilirakis; the Democrat, Phyllis Busansky. The open seat being vacated by Butch Otter in Idaho’s 1st CD: the Republican is Bill Sali; the Democrat Larry Grant. Gil Gutknecht in Minnesota’s 1st CD. The Democrat is Tim Walz. Jeb Bradley in New Hampshire’s 1st CD. The Democrat is Carol Shea-Porter. Jean Schmidt in Ohio’s 2nd CD. The Democrat is Victoria Wuslin. Barbara Cubin in Wyoming’s single at-large House seat. The Democrat is Gary Trauner.

We cannot assume that the immigration issue per se will sink all these right-wing incumbents and candidates; indeed, they are trying to whip up fear of immigrants as a way of saving their political necks. Although in most cases the Democratic challenger is better than the Republican candidate, not all are equally good on immigration. However, it would be particularly useful to the immigrant rights movement for naturalized citizens and friends of immigrants to make sure they register and vote in these districts.

If eight, 10 or 15 of these seats are lost by the Republicans in November and if this causes them to lose their control of the House, it will send the message that bashing immigrants is not necessarily the way to seize and hold a seat in Congress. This means that it will be less likely that immigrants will continue to be scapegoated and subjected to legislative attacks in the immediate future.

So the slogan of the spring mass immigrant rights marches, “Today we march, tomorrow we vote,” is of the utmost importance. We need to do all we can to influence the outcome of the above races if we want to advance with an immigrant rights agenda in 2007.