Everyone knows that Republicans are more skeptical of immigration than Democrats are. And everyone knows that the November election will be hell on Senate Republicans. So simple logic indicates that immigration restrictionists will lose ground by the year’s end.
This, though, is an understatement. The seats that might change hands this November are not only Republican seats, but they’re occupied by politicians who voted against last year’s amnesty. That’s far from redundant, as no fewer than 12 Republicans joined with the Democrats on S. 1639. The election might put pro-immigration forces above the threshold needed to pass a similar bill.
Election predictions are a messy business. One quick-and-easy way to tell which Senate seats might switch is to consult Intrade, a website where users bet on political races. A candidate’s share price indicates his odds of winning. According to Intrade, 12 seats have at least a 25 percent chance of switching parties, using this method.
Republicans currently hold 11 of these, with Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu the sole Democrat. Two additional Republicans are retiring and, in all likelihood, leaving their seats to other Republicans.
The debate last year was complicated — immigration advocates introduced a bill, lost, revised it, and introduced it again. Each try had two votes, the first to bring it up for consideration, the second to invoke cloture and thus avoid the normal committee-review process. The latter required 60-vote majorities.
Once the Senate caved, it would have been reasonably clear sailing, with House Republicans a minority and the president committed to signing the bill.
THANKS TO A full-on assault by the conservative media, and some very angry constituent phone calls, both attempts failed. In fact, the first cloture vote proved a complete disaster, and even the second — the do-or-die one — failed to gain the support of a simple majority. (You can see a spreadsheet of the votes here, and more here and here.)
The vulnerable seats were a crucial part of the second vote’s failure. Eleven of the 12, with the now-retired Trent Lott as the exception, voted no.
It’s hard to look ahead without wincing. Take, for example, the three threatened seats where the incumbents are retiring. New Mexico is all but lost: Three House members are vying to replace Republican Pete Domenici. For politicians who have had to cast votes in the federal government, Numbers USA provides report cards, breaking immigration down into categories that include “Amnesties.” Steve Pearce (R) has an F-. So does Heather Wilson (R). So, too, does Tom Udall (D).
In Colorado, the likely Republican nominee left the House with an A+ in the “Amnesties” category, but his Democratic opponent has an F-. In Virginia, Republican Jim Gilmore opposes amnesty, but it’s hard to tell what his opponent thinks.
The races with anti-amnesty incumbents facing possible defeat aren’t encouraging, either, though they’re just getting started. Only one likely challenger, Tom Allen of Maine, has a Numbers USA grade on the subject: F-. Al Franken, unless he’s joking, wants a “path to citizenship.” So does Rick Noriega. Kay Hagan wants a “practical solution.”
The websites of Jeanne Shaheen, Mark Begich, and Jeff Merkley don’t contain the word “immigration,” which can’t be good. Ditto for the fact that Landrieu’s challenger used to be a Democrat too.
The special election for Lott’s seat is a muddled picture. Roger Wicker, a Republican, has a C on amnesties. The Democrat, Ronnie Musgrove, wants “meaningful immigration reform.”
Two Republican retirees will probably leave their seats to other Republicans, though, and this provides a silver lining: Chuck Hagel and Larry Craig said “yea” last year (the latter took a wide stance for amnesty), but the newcomers disagree. Nebraska’s nominee promises a no vote, and so does Idaho’s.
SO WHEN THE FIGHT resumes in 2009 — and it will — it will be tougher to kill an amnesty bill. An astute observer might point out, however, that last year cloture had only 46 supporters — this legislation will definitely inspire a filibuster, and there’s no way November’s musical chairs will bring in an additional 14 yes-voters.
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