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Nativist candidates’ primary failures represent a true referendum on immigration

Imagine 2050 Staff • Sep 15, 2014

President Obama recently announced he would not use his lawful authority to provide deportation relief to more undocumented immigrants until after Election Day in November. Since that announcement, the organized anti-immigrant movement has sought to depict the upcoming elections as a referendum on the President’s immigration policy – seemingly confident that their nativist positions of limited immigration and overzealous enforcement hold sway with American voters.

In one way, however, the country already has held a sort of referendum on immigration policy during this year’s primary season. The positions of the anti-immigrant movement did not prove popular with primary voters. Of the candidates who signed a pledge created by the movement’s flagship organization, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), an overwhelming majority lost.

With primary election season coming to close, we can now take a more comprehensive look at the successes and failures of candidates who chose to align themselves – both formally and ideologically – with the anti-immigrant movement. And based on the results, what’s clear is voters are widely rejecting the overt nativism of FAIR and its cohorts.

FAIRchartFAIRchart2According to the Federal Elections Commission, 2,562 candidates registered to run for the U.S. House and Senate in the 2014 elections. Of those, a mere 95 candidates – less than four percent – signed FAIR’s pledge.

It gets worse, though.

Of the 95 candidates that chose to align themselves with the anti-immigrant movement, 75 lost their primary elections. These candidates include high-profile failures like Frank Roche, Chris McDaniel and Joe Carr. These far-Right candidates attempted to unseat incumbents Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.), and Sens. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Tenn.), respectively.

Because of their expressed support for meaningful immigration reform, Ellmers and Cochran were specifically targeted by the anti-immigrant movement. These races were also presented as a referendum on immigration policy and voters proved unmoved by the anti-immigrant movement’s messages. Rather than cave to the pressures applied by that movement and its far-Right media allies, Ellmers and Cochran leaned into their stance on immigration.

If this was a referendum, the anti-immigrant movement failed.

Handful of pledge-signers advance

A paltry 16 pledge-signers won their party’s nomination.

All 16 candidates were Republicans and half were either incumbents and/or ran unopposed. Unsurprisingly, most of the incumbents who signed the pledge are members of the FAIR-affiliated House Immigration Reform Caucus (IRC). Four other candidates either still have a pending primary election or are running as an Independent or third party candidate.

The 16 successful candidates represent a miniscule 0.62% of all declared candidates for federal office. This information also means a mere three percent of the 471 elections being held across the country this November will involve a candidate who has signed FAIR’s pledge. If the anti-immigrant movement’s agenda has broad support, why didn’t voters place candidates that support the likes of FAIR on the ballot for the general election?

It remains to be seen how they will fare this November, but traditional voting patterns of the districts involved suggest that not all of FAIR’s surviving candidates will be celebrating come election night.

The anti-immigrant movement can make the upcoming elections a symbolic referendum if it wants. However, if its lack of success throughout the year is any indication, candidates should realize that the aligning with the anti-immigrant movement and promoting nativist policies is not a winning campaign strategy.

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