The results are in on one of the first statewide tests of a Republican campaign strategy to use immigrant-bashing as an electoral wedge, and it appears the plan has gone down in flames. Trying to distract voters from not only pressing local concerns but a national dissatisfaction with Republican policies, many Virginia Republicans tied their campaigns to a strong anti-immigrant message.
Jittery Virginia Republicans, whose grip on state politics has been weakening steadily for several years, are facing further setbacks in this fall's elections for the General Assembly, possibly including the end of GOP control of the Senate for the first time in nearly a decade. In their desperation for a vote-getter, they have seized on the whipping boy of illegal immigration, which they blame for ills ranging from the erosion of the commonwealth's values to the difficulty of being admitted to state colleges.
...It's an ugly strategy and certainly not one unique to Virginia. It seeks to distract voters from core state issues such as transportation, fiscal prudence and good governance.
Washington Post, Sept. 8, 2007
But the strategy seems to have failed - with Republicans losing control of the commonwealth's Senate and several House seats.
Democrats Win Key Senate Races in Virginia
Governor Says Party Will Control Senate, Pick Up Some House Seats
Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) claimed victory last night in the legislative elections, saying his party had seized control of the state Senate and made historic gains in the House of Delegates.
In a speech to Democratic Party activists at a hotel in Tysons Corner, Kaine hailed the political changes that have swept through Virginia, beginning with the election of Gov. Mark R. Warner in 2001, his own election four years later and last year's victory by U.S. Sen. James Webb.
In an interview moments later, Kaine said Democrats picked up four seats in the Senate, with two races still outstanding.
In claiming the Senate, Democrats prepared to install longtime Fairfax Sen. Richard L. Saslaw as majority leader and seize the chairmanships of key committees that control social legislation, crime issues, land-use and transportation policy.
Saslaw said the results proved that efforts by Republicans to focus voter attention on illegal immigration did not work.
"I did not think that immigration in and of itself would carry the day," Saslaw said. "The results are proving that while immigration is a concern to people -- and it should be -- it is not returning the votes that they thought that it would."
However, in Prince William, Republican Board of County Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart succeeded in winning reelection after making illegal immigration a focus of the campaign. He had led the board to impose tough sanctions on illegal immigrants, making national news.
Robert D. Holsworth, a political science professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, said the "decline of the Republican brand" rallied Democratic activists, bringing forward credible Democratic candidates and attracting hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions to Democratic campaigns.
Although Republican, Corey Stewart, poster-boy for the anti-immigrant Right, did manage to retain his position as Chairman of the Prince Williams County Board of Supervisors by running perhaps the most virulent anti-immigrant campaign yet seen, the strategy didn't pay off with the kind of big numbers that should lead Republican strategists to try to replicate his tactics on any national scale.
Stewart's 2% rise in the polls since last year's run can hardly be seen as an overwhelming vindication for a strategy that failed to gain any traction outside the confines of Prince William County, and very well might have caused backlash in some of the state's other key races.
Prince William Board of Supervisors Chairman
Corey A. Stewart-----44,519----53%
Sharon E. Pandak-----38,710----47%
Corey A. Stewart-----30,318----55%
Sharon E. Pandak-----24,336----45%
If the Republicans were looking at immigrant-bashing as a silver bullet to stem the national tide against them, surely tonight's results in Virginia should give them second thoughts.