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Washington Post: GOP Finds Hot Button in Illegal Immigration

Author: Jonathan Weisman
October 23, 2007



While Republicans taking a tough stance on illegal immigration have been seen as vulnerable against a Hispanic backlash, this piece turns that notion on its head and show how the issue has begun to cut into support for Democrats.


When Republican Jim Ogonowski launched his long-shot bid for Congress, he prepared for an upbeat campaign in his Democratic, working-class district of Massachusetts, based on a winning resume: affable hay farmer, former Air Force lieutenant colonel, and brother of an American Airlines pilot whose hijacked plane slammed into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

But by last month, although opinion polling showed that he was well liked, he was still running 10 points behind Democrat Niki Tsongas with just weeks to go before a special election. The campaign needed a way to go beyond biography, to persuade Northern Massachusetts to vote Republican. They found it in illegal immigration.

On Tuesday, Ogonowski still fell short, but Tsongas's 51 to 45 percent victory was a shocker in a district where both John F. Kerry and Al Gore took 57 percent of the vote, and where liberal Democratic Rep. Martin T. Meehan served comfortably for eight terms. The underwhelming victory of the wife of deceased former senator Paul Tsongas has rekindled Democratic concerns about an immigration issue they had hoped had been put to rest.

"This issue has real implications for the country. It captures all the American people's anger and frustration not only with immigration, but with the economy," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus and an architect of the Democratic congressional victories of 2006. "It's self-evident. This is a big problem."

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