Both sides use immigration as election tactic

An immigration rally in Lafayette Square in Washington drew thousands in June 2018. (IRW/Susan Van Haitsma)

By Sommer Brugal


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Candidates from both parties in the upcoming midterm elections are using immigration to fire up their bases or paint negative images of their opponents. This is a marked change from the last midterm elections in 2014 when immigration wasn’t considered a top issue for the GOP.

Some Democrats have pushed to abolish U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, while many Republicans continue supporting President Donald Trump’s proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall and harsher immigration laws.

A USA TODAY analysis of data from Kantar Media in May found that Republicans aired more than 14,000 campaign ads in support of a “Trump-style immigration platform” in the first five months of 2018. An August CNN analysis showed that 25 percent of ads from Republicans were related to immigration, compared with 5 percent from Democrats.

Congressional and gubernatorial candidates spent more than $124 million on more than 280,000 immigration-related TV ads, a CNN analysis of Kantar Media/CMA found.

Follow the administration’s changes and court cases through IRW’s timeline.

Voices in the debate

Troy Balderson, a Republican candidate for Ohio’s 12th Congressional District, aired a TV ad in spring 2018 saying he would end sanctuary cities to “stop illegals from taking our jobs,” fight alongside Trump to enforce his proposals and use his “conservative grit to build the darn wall.”

A National Republican Senatorial Committee ad targeted North Dakota Senate Democrat Heidi Heitkamp for supporting sanctuary cities. Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter who represents California’s 50th District, said in an ad that his opponent, Ammar Campa-Najjar, who is Palestinian-Mexican-American, is supported by the Muslim Brotherhood and is a “radical Muslim” trying to infiltrate Congress.

Former U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, a Florida Republican took a literal approach to immigration in his bid for governor. In an ad, DeSantis appears with his nearly 2-year-old daughter as she plays with building blocks and shouts: “Build that wall!”

Democrats are also weighing in on immigration-related issues

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recently released a series of Spanish ads targeting Latinx voters in states with key U.S. House races, including Texas, Nevada, Utah and California. In August, Equity Forward, a watchdog group that focuses on reproductive health, ran an ad denouncing the administration’s child separation policy.

Individual campaigns also are honing in on the topic.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democratic running for New York’s 14th Congressional District, is among candidates using immigration as a central issue leading up to the midterms. Ocasio-Cortez has called for an abolishment of ICE and has received support from a number of other Democrats.

Jacky Rosen, a Democrat running for one of Nevada’s U.S. Senate seats, is campaigning to win the state’s Latinx vote by stressing her record on immigration-related issues, such as the DREAM Act.

A shift in focus

Immigration hasn’t always been a highly discussed topic leading into recent midterm elections. In the 2014 midterms, immigration wasn’t included in the top 10 issues for GOP candidates or Republican voters; instead, candidates pointed to problems within the Affordable Care Act, attacks on then-President Barack Obama, and a promise for limited government spending.

This year, however, the topic listed as the most important problem facing the nation for 22 percent of those surveyed in July, according to a Gallup pollster. The rating is the highest percentage the topic has received since the question was created more than a decade ago.