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FAIR’s pledge to candidates: Sign on with us if you want to fail

Aaron Patrick Flanagan • Jun 05, 2014

On April 28, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) launched yet another of its issue-oriented pledge-drives, querying mid-term candidates: “Will you promise to protect American workers?”

By urging candidates to sign its pledge, FAIR has hoped to inject its nativist stance as a headline-grabbing, voter-mobilizing swing issue into primary elections nationwide.

FAIR’s pledge is failing alongside many of its signatories, though.

At the time of writing, the website Ballotopedia.org, which tracks elections nationally, lists 1,904 candidates as having officially filed to run across all parties for state primary races. FAIR’s pledge, which was issued by its congressional lobbying arm known as the FAIR Congressional Taskforce, has only garnered 75 signatures. That’s less than 4 percent of eligible candidates, of which only 4 are incumbents.

Many of those who’ve signed on are under-funded and lack name recognition, seemingly hoping to inject some populist torque into their largely irrelevant runs. Perhaps many were hoping to cultivate a base of voters and saw FAIR’s pledge as way to establish credibility. Perhaps others thought FAIR’s nativist stance toward immigration reform a possible catalyst that could rally momentum and attract otherwise absent funders. Clearly, though, most of these 75 candidates have or had no real hope of winning. 

Translation: Those with “no hope” are standing alongside FAIR’s “no amnesty” pledge.  This is an apt correlation, as a failure to pass immigration reform is destroying families and costing our economy $37 million in lost revenue every day.

Further tabulations prove that FAIR’s 75 have hardly shown well.

Of the 48 primaries featuring pledge-signers that have been decided as of yesterday, 6/3:

  • Seven candidates will now feature in run-offs;
  • 38 have resulted in out-right losses;
  • Only one of FAIR’s signatories has unseated an incumbent, though that race in Mississippi is still being counted and looks destined for a run-off;
  • Katrina Pierson, a Tea Party favorite with large grassroots appeal, was handily defeated by incumbent Rep. Pete Sessions. After a year of closely aligning herself with Beltway groups from the organized nativist movement, she lost by more than 25 points;
  • In total, only seven out of 48 have won, two of which were running unopposed, another two were incumbents. (Two run-offs in Georgia and one in Alabama pit two pledge-signers against one another.)

As the flagship of the “Beltway Big Three” of the organized nativist movement*, as we here at the Center for New Community know it, FAIR’s failure to attract big name incumbents to its pledge should not be understood as a diminishing of the group’s influence on The Hill, even if many don’t feel comfortable aligning publically with the group.

FAIR’s Congressional Task Force and its lobbyists are close to important members of the House Judiciary Committee, and the anti-immigrant sentiment that the group helps to foster along with allies like Reps. Steve King and Lamar Smith (who is particularly close to FAIR) is an important factor for anyone trying to understand why and how integrative immigration reform measures are being blocked from reaching the House floor.

So how should all of this be understood?

Well, the failures of the pledge-singers and their campaigns should reflect that the Beltway Big Three’s anti-immigrant message lacks deep resonance with swathes of voters, who are simply proving unresponsive. Even in a deep-Red North Carolina district where the Beltway Big Three directly targeted Rep. Renee Ellmers for a sustained period over a few months, their message fell flat where they clearly had predicted it would flourish. (Here’s our interactive timeline of the Big Three’s failed targeting of Rep. Ellmers.) 

FAIR has recently blamed this on big money interfering with elections (see our timeline), but one can reverse that logic: Why isn’t the big money lining up behind candidates who’ve signed on if, as FAIR and company claim, Americans are supposedly so against immigration reform that is both humane and pro-business?

For now, FAIR’s message isn’t currently swinging primary elections, but that may change come the general election.

*The Center for Immigration Studies and NumbersUSA also comprise the “Beltway Big Three,” with each group of the three owing its existence to John Tanton.

(Our analysis of FAIR’s pledge-signers is ongoing through September.)


Aaron P. Flanagan is the Director of Research at the Center for New Community.


Image source: Tom Prete

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