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Republican Anti-Immigrant Ads Fall Short In Election Results

Nov 9, 2018
Originally published on November 9, 2018 11:42 am
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Republican successes in Tuesday's elections are looking narrower and, in some cases, in doubt. Ballot counting in the Arizona Senate race has given a slight lead to the Democrat. Florida's races for governor and senator are heading for recounts, and counting continues in Georgia. Still, Republicans strove to limit the damage in an otherwise Democratic year. President Trump unleashed ferocious rhetoric targeting immigrants. One ad was deemed so racist that networks, including Fox, stopped airing it. So did that rhetoric work? Here's NPR's Joel Rose.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: If you live in a place where the elections this week were close, you might have seen - TV ads full of sinister, shadowy figures, police sirens and migrants on the move, like this one, attacking Democrat Abigail Spanberger in Virginia.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: Spanberger defended the violent gang MS-13 and supports sanctuary cities. And pro-amnesty radicals are pouring millions into Spanberger's campaign.

ROSE: Congressman Dave Brat frequently tried to portray his opponent as soft on immigration. Its a strategy that worked for him in 2014, when he stunned the political world by defeating House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a Republican primary. But it didn't work this time. Across the country, candidates, mostly Republicans, spent more than a hundred-million dollars on immigration ads in races from Pennsylvania to Iowa to California, and a lot of them came up short. Elaine Kamarck is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a think tank in Washington.

ELAINE KAMARCK: If you look at the governors' races and the House races, you have to say that immigration didn't seem to be the magic that the Republicans were looking for.

ROSE: There were a lot of issues playing out on Tuesday night, but President Trump made his crackdown on immigration a central part of his pitch to voters. Still, that failed to translate into success for some prominent immigration hawks in the party, including Kris Kobach, who is running for governor in Kansas. Elaine Kamarck says the GOP immigration strategy got mixed results.

KAMARCK: There are some people that are going to be swayed by these scary immigration ads and others that won't be. It's obviously not an issue that you would use everywhere.

ROSE: Kamarck says the GOP's immigration scare tactics did not play well with suburban voters, who are angry about the administration's hardline policies like separating migrant families. But she suspects the ads did help to turn out rural voters, who say growing immigrant populations are taking jobs and benefits away from citizens in places like Tennessee and Missouri, where Republican Senate candidates won this week. And in Indiana, where Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly was unseated by Republican Mike Braun, who put out a flurry of immigration ads.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

MIKE BRAUN: We must build the wall, ban sanctuary cities and put an end to chain migration. There are lives at stake.

ROSE: Meanwhile, down in Texas, Republican Senator Ted Cruz fended off a serious challenge from Democrat Beto O'Rourke with TV ads that called the Democrat Open Borders O'Rourke and accused him of encouraging the migrant caravan to come to the United States. Those ads helped Cruz's cause, says Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors lower levels of immigration.

MARK KRIKORIAN: That's the kind of place where advertising on the immigration issue, the border issue, really could make a difference.

ROSE: But immigrant rights advocates say the GOP's immigration strategy backfired. Frank Sharry is with America's Voice.

FRANK SHARRY: Did Trump's exploitation of racism and xenophobia work to mobilize some of his voters? Probably. Did it also mobilize a backlash made up of voters of color and suburban whites, educated of all backgrounds? Yes.

ROSE: Immigration hawks, however, say without those ads, the results on Tuesday could have been worse for the GOP. Joel Rose, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.