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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Jerry’s Last Gasp: Immigrant-Bashing

If you’ve been following the Virginia’s gubernatorial contest, which has entered its final stage, you have probably noticed that Republican candidate Jerry (Never Met Him) Kilgore has returned with a vengeance to a message warning Virginians that illegal immigrants are flooding the Commonwealth, spreading gang violence, promoting al Qaeda, and speaking foreign tongues and so forth.It’s certainly predictable. Ol’ Jerry’s losing ground in virtually every poll. His try-em-and-fry-em Death Penalty ads have largely backfired. His party and his president are like millstones around his neck. And he appears to be losing support most lethally in Northern Virginia, where earlier polls had him running neck-and-neck with Democrat Tim Kaine.So not surprisingly, Jerry’s handlers have decided to stake the ranch on the belief that concerns about illegal immigration in Northern Virginia can give their candidate the crucial boost he needs.I’ve written about this issue in the Viriginia campaign here and here, and won’t repeat that analysis today, but if you want to understand why immigration is suddenly a hot topic in the South, and especially in suburbs and exurbs in the South, check out this new article by Clay Risen on The New Republic’s site. As Clay explains, some of the highest percentage increases in immigrant populations are in southern states, including those far from any border. And it’s no surprise that southern Republicans are leaping on this issue in state after state–a trend that will definitely accelerate tremendously if ol’ Jerry wins and the post-election analysis shows anti-immigrant demagoguery was a factor.The main thing I’d add to Clay’s analysis is how risky the deployment of this issue is for the GOP. Ol’ Jerry’s rhetoric (other than the absurd claims of al Qaeda connections) isn’t that far from the kind of talk that backfired on Republicans in California during the 1990s, making their candidates anathema to Latino voters. And it certainly doesn’t fit in well with Karl Rove’s famous focus on these voters as a potential building-block for a Republican majority. But here’s the deal: the southern states where immigrant-bashing is spreading like topsy are places where immigrant populations are large enough to be conspicious, but have not developed into a serious political force of their own.Thus, politicians like ol’ Jerry believe they can use this toxic issue to wedge exurban and rural voters without paying any serious price elsewhere. And without question, Republican pols in the rest of the region will be watching the results very closely, with cookie-cutters in hand.So, my fellow Virginians, if the prospect of four years of lousy and hyper-partisan government isn’t enough to motivate you to get off your butts and send ol’ Jerry into retirement, consider your responsibility to the rest of the country for punishing demagogues and putting the fear of God into those who will otherwise use every nasty tactic that seems to work.

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