Friday, October 20, 2006

San Diego Newspaper Examines Immigration in the OH-01 Race

Illegal entry a hot issue in Ohio

By Finlay Lewis
October 18, 2006

CINCINNATI – Leaning on a shovel as his three-man landscaping crew turned over sod at a local shopping mall, Jude Adkins stewed over what he considers the personal economic threat posed by low-wage competitors.

“The kind of work we do, the Mexicans are basically cutting our throats. They shouldn't be here,” declared the 30-year-old owner of an outdoor services company. “They should be arrested immediately and gotten the heck out of here.”

Adkins' remarks underscored the roiling emotions that have made illegal immigration a hot-button issue in a congressional race more than 1,800 miles from San Diego and the U.S.-Mexico border.

The closely contested battle in Ohio between Republican incumbent Steve Chabot and Democratic challenger John Cranley is not unique. Candidates in such disparate states as Arizona, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Montana, Indiana, Georgia and Minnesota are focusing, with varying degrees of intensity, on immigration.

Congress has groped – futilely so far – for a solution to the challenges posed by the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants who have settled in communities across the nation.

Like Chabot, many GOP candidates – and some Democrats – have framed the remedy in terms of border security, with the centerpiece solution embodied in a bill awaiting President Bush's signature: 700 miles of fence along the most porous points of the 2,000-mile border. In so doing, they have tacitly repudiated Bush's insistence on a comprehensive solution that includes a path to citizenship, saying his approach would amount to “amnesty” – a dirty word in today's political climate.

First lady Laura Bush appeared with Ohio Rep. Steve Chabot at a campaign event in Cincinnati. Chabot is trying to extend his 12-year stint in the House.
For Republicans, exploiting popular anger over illegal immigration may help mobilize their core voters, who might otherwise stay home on Election Day in discouragement over an increasingly unpopular war in Iraq, a huge federal deficit and the scandal over a former congressman's sexually explicit electronic messages to congressional pages.

That strategy could be risky over the longer term given U.S. Census Bureau statistics that project decades of growth for the Latino population. Many political experts link the weakening of the Republican Party in California to then-Gov. Pete Wilson's hard-line stance on Hispanic immigration during the early 1990s.

“I think it would be a very bad strategy for our party to decide we are going to rerun the Pete Wilson 1990 campaign – you know, we are the party that hates immigrants more. That would be disastrous for us,” said Brian Nienaber, a Republican pollster.

But many Republicans see a more immediate problem in predictions that the GOP could lose as many as 30 seats – and its majority – in the House. Democrats must gain 15 seats to regain the majority they lost in 1994.

Democrat John Cranley, who hopes to unseat Chabot, paid in August to lower the price of gasoline temporarily to $1.26 a gallon at a station in West Price Hill.
“I think they have thrown caution to the winds,” said Gary Jacobson, a political scientist at the University of California San Diego. “They are far more interested in short-term political gain than they are on long-run political damage. I think they have discounted the future pretty heavily. It is based on their individual districts. This is not something that is going to come back and haunt Chabot in his district.”

At first glance, the Cincinnati area would seem an unlikely flash point in the immigration debate, which burns with greatest intensity this year in places like Arizona, whose 361-mile border with Mexico has been the crossing point of choice for many illegal entries. Whereas a third of Arizona's population is Latino, the 2000 census found that 1.3 percent of Cincinnati's population of 317,361 claims that ethnic background.

Perhaps more significant politically is that the Hispanic population of Cincinnati and surrounding Hamilton County grew by 83 percent during the 1990s, according to the Census Bureau. The suddenness of that development has captured the attention of longer-term residents, some of whom feel threatened by the newcomers.

A recent reader survey by The Cincinnati Enquirer reflected that unease, finding that illegal immigration ranks with crime and drugs as the top concern of voters this year.

The anxieties prompted Chabot and Cranley to trade angry television ads attacking each other's record on immigration.

With polls showing a tight race, Chabot, a 12-year congressional veteran, triggered the fight with an ad accusing Cranley, a member of the Cincinnati City Council, of supporting “amnesty” for illegal immigrants.
Chabot based his claim on a council vote cast by Cranley in March supporting a bill sponsored by Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican. The measure outlined a comprehensive approach similar to Bush's.

Cranley fired back with an ad chastising Chabot for doing nothing to solve the immigration problem and for backing several measures that Cranley characterized as providing an amnesty for illegal immigrants.

Bush has promised to sign the border security bill that includes the fence. But in a news conference last week, he argued that the problem is too complex to lend itself to an enforcement-only solution. He renewed his support for a temporary guest-worker program that would allow immigrants into the country for limited time to work on specified jobs.

“You can't fence the entire border,” Bush said. “I happen to believe that in order to make the entire border secure we need a guest-worker program so people aren't sneaking in in the first place.”

Chabot last spring dissented from that approach, saying, “I think it is a mistake to even consider a guest-worker program until we have better control of our borders.”

White House press secretary Tony Snow said that Bush, too, opposes amnesty, contending illegal immigrants would have to pay penalties and meet other conditions to gain legal status. He said that the president's detailed proposal constitutes “a real test of desire to figure out who wants to be an American citizen.”

“I think people who clear those hurdles will have demonstrated their bona fides,” he said.

In Ohio, where state government scandals have left the Republican Party in disarray, generating excitement among the GOP faithful could be crucial to candidates like Chabot and may explain his decision to invest in three separate television ads devoted to the illegal immigration issue.

While the issue helped Rep. Brian Bilbray, R-Carlsbad, capture Randy “Duke” Cunningham's vacant House seat in June's special election, it has not figured prominently in the fall campaigns in California.

That may be due in part to the absence of competitive congressional races in November, Jacobson said.


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