Republicans Losing the West
He was loud, he was blustery and he was clear: our country is being overrun by Mexicans. To back his bark, he wrote, “Whatever It Takes,” as subtle as a cactus poke. He had money, and he had the power of office, a 12-year incumbency.
In the end, J. D. Hayworth, a Republican, was kicked out of his Congressional seat here last year. In the glossy white suburbs of Phoenix, immigrant-bashing backfired.
Farther south, in a district that is ground zero in the border wars — the seared-over patch of Arizona desert where the Minutemen patrol, more Mayberry than Concord — another Republican took an even harsher stance. The anti-immigration extremist, Randy Graf, was crushed.
For Republicans in Arizona, the result was a net loss of two Congressional seats.
Americans are genuinely conflicted and troubled about porous borders and the 12 million or more illegal immigrants in our midst. But to hear politicians who have been scorched by the blowhard fringe tell it, they’re facing a tidal wave of opposition to a consensus change in the status quo.
Last week, Senator Trent Lott, the Republican whip, blamed talk radio for the possibly fatal collapse of the immigration reform bill.
“Talk radio is running America,” he told The Times. “We have to deal with that problem.”
Just a few years out of probation for praising the Old Confederacy vision of a Paleolithic senator, Mr. Lott knows what it’s like to be burned by free speech friction. But he is wrong to confuse the medium with the electorate.
The front lines of this problem are in the fast-growing states of the American West. And the closer you get to the border, the more voters back politicians who are looking for middle ground — and punish those who follow the rant-for-ratings route.
In just the last six years, Arizona’s population grew by 20 percent, Nevada’s by 25 percent, Colorado’s by 10 percent and New Mexico’s by 7.5 percent. These four states may be the biggest battleground in next year’s presidential race, with 29 electoral votes — more than Florida or Ohio.
Hispanics make up 28 percent of Arizona, 24 percent of Nevada, 20 percent of Colorado and 43 percent of New Mexico. The rap is that they don’t vote. Not yet, at least. But they’re the fastest-growing part of the electorate.
Still, on the air it’s open war against the browning of America — tinged with slurs that disrespect all Hispanics. Consider Hayworth, who gives helium a bad name. Ousted from his seat, he now uses the megaphone of a Phoenix talk station to promote his solution: all undocumented immigrants would be given 120 days to leave the country — or face a massive, forceful roundup and deportation.
Right. And this would be done, no doubt, by the same people who couldn’t stop a single tuberculosis carrier from entering the country.
The syndicated talker Neal Boortz chuckles at the human collision along an advanced border fence. “I don’t care if Mexicans pile up against that fence like tumbleweeds in the Santa Ana winds,” he said on Monday. And two hosts of something called the “Patriot Radio News Hour” here mocked the Hispanic Games, held last weekend in Phoenix. They suggested “jumping the fence” and “leaving the scene of an accident” as competitive events for Latino athletes. Ha-ha.
Democrats are laughing all the way to a new Western majority. In 2004, they picked up a Senate and a Congressional seat in Colorado, with two Hispanic brothers in cowboy hats. And they did it with counties where an NPR liberal is hard to find.
“Arizona is in play like never before,” said David Waid, chairman of the state’s Democratic Party. “And the Republicans are literally handing it to us.”
Some Republicans know this. Nationwide, Hispanic support for Republican candidates dropped 10 points from 2004 to 2006 — to about 30 percent of the vote. Yes, this state’s two Republican senators, John McCain and Jon Kyl, favor the comprehensive immigration bill. And yes, President Bush is the bill’s chief proponent.
But pragmatism is being drowned out by the bullies with electronic bullhorns, who’ve got their party leaders running scared.
“If they get their way and the bill dies, so too may Republican electoral prospects for the foreseeable future,” wrote Clint Bolick, a conservative scholar, in The Arizona Republic this week.
Remember that prediction on Election Day 2008.