Election Analysis

Why Eric Cantor really lost and what it means for GOP outreach to Asian Voters

Within minutes of Eric Cantor’s primary loss dozens of knee-jerk reactions in the national media called the upset bad news for immigration reform.  Let’s be clear – Eric Cantor was never a friend of immigration reform, nor was he a champion of GOP outreach to Latinos.  Cantor was more closely aligned with the immigration obstructionist in the House than those serious about bipartisan reform. While his opponent, David Brat does hold very strong anti-immigrant policy views, Cantor’s loss had almost nothing to do with immigration reform.  Cantor lost because of his strong affiliation with establishment House Republicans, as a long time DC insider, and his Republican constituents frustration over the utter inability for House leadership to move any mainstream agenda forward.  His loss was about anti-incumbent, anti-DC sentiments that were most famous in the 2010 midterms, but still linger today.

Cantor’s loss and Brat’s anti-immigrant positioning provide an opportunity to assess exactly what the now overly-analyzed primary election for Virginia’s 7th district means for immigration reform and 2014.  According to our extensive review of the immigration issue we offer three critical take-aways from the Cantor loss:

1) Anti-Immigrant candidates continue to lose in Virginia general elections (e.g. Ken Cuccinelli).

2) Pro-immigration reform Republicans win more primaries than they lose.

3) As the GOP continues to promote anti-immigrant candidates like Brat they only further alienate Latino and Asian voters.

1) Anti-Immigrant candidates continue to lose in Virginia general elections.  Before people read too deep into Brat’s primary win, check back to the 2013 election for Governor of Virginia in which Republican Ken Cuccinelli lost a close election in large part due to his anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies.  The year before that, Mitt Romney lost the swing state of Virginia while running on his infamous “self-deport” and veto the DREAM Act platform.  Also in 2012, Republican George Allen who wanted to make English the official language and repeal birthright citizenship to U.S. born kids, lost his Senate bid to Tim Kaine who staked out a clear pro-immigration reform stance.  That’s 0 for 3 for the last three Republicans who tried to win a Virginia election on an anti-immigrant record.

2) Pro-immigration reform Republicans win more primaries than they lose. On the same day that Cantor lost, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham easily won his primary in conservative South Carolina with 57% of the vote.  His closest challenger – who attacked him for supporting immigration reform – won just 15% of the primary vote.  Graham you will recall was a co-sponsor of the Gang of 8 immigration reform bill that passed the U.S. Senate.  Despite his very strong support for immigration reform, Graham easily prevailed in his primary.  In Ohio’s 14th district, Matt Lynch campaigned on a strict anti-immigrant platform and called David Joyce too moderate on immigration, but the moderate candidate Joyce easily defeated the anti-immigrant candidate Lynch.  In Georgia’s U.S. Senate primary, the most anti-immigrant candidate in the race, Paul Broun, ended up with less than 10% of the Republican vote, losing to businessman David Perdue. In California’s 10th district, Republican Jeff Denham who has co-sponsored immigration reform legislation in the House didn’t even draw a Republican challenger.

3) As the GOP continues to promote anti-immigrant candidates like Brat they only further alienate Latino and Asian voters.  Perhaps the most critical lesson of Cantor’s loss is for the GOP itself.  A Latino Decisions poll released June 4, 2014 finds that Latino voters are still highly movable when it comes to Republicans and immigration.  61% of Latino voters said that they would be willing to give the GOP a second chance and hear them out on all the issues if the GOP support comprehensive immigration reform.  Not bad.  However, if the GOP blocks a vote on immigration reform in the House, 74% of Latino voters say they will have an even less favorable view towards the Republican party overall.  And, 63% of Latinos say that anti-immigrant statements from individual Republicans (say, perhaps David Brat), make them look less favorably on the Republican party as a whole.  And it’s not just Latino voters who have been turned off by Republicans anti-immigrant rhetoric, Asian voters also saying they are less favorable towards Republicans.  A Latino Decisions election eve poll in Virginia among Latino and Asian voters in the 2013 gubernatorial election found a majority of both Latinos and Asians agreed that Cuccinelli’s statements about immigrants were a driving factor in their vote against him, and it had spillover effects, making both Latinos and Asians less likely to support Republicans overall.

If the GOP does not correct course on the immigration issue and their Latino outreach efforts, the Mitt Romney debacle of 2012 will be seen as the glory days.  They could very realistically sink to less than 20% of the Latino vote in 2014 and 2016 if they follow the path of anti-immigrant candidates.  Sharron Angle and her 10% of the Latino vote is not a model the GOP wants to replicate.