Like health care reform before it, immigration reform has been declared dead more times than Al Qaida's #2 man. Yet this past weekend, Harry Reid spoke to an immigration rally in Las Vegas and promised action on the issue.
“We’re going to come back, we’re going to have comprehensive immigration reform now,” he said in a speech to more than 6,000 people, mostly immigrants, gathered downtown.
“We need to do this this year,” Mr. Reid said, drawing cheers from the crowd, which included many Latinos. “We cannot wait.” [...]
Mr. Reid told the crowd that he believes he has 56 votes in the Senate in support of the immigration legislation. “We need a handful of Republicans,” he said, calling on immigrant groups to help mobilize support among them for the overhaul.
The conventional wisdom really wants immigration reform dead. The last two cycles, it claimed that the immigration issue would help Republicans keep electoral pace, but of course, it didn't. So now, in a terrible electoral environment for Democrats, immigration will FINALLY hurt Democrats, right?
Ezra notes why Democrats have even greater impetus to push for immigration reform this year:
As Ron Brownstein frequently points out, Obama won fewer than 40 percent of working-class whites in 2008. Congressional Democrats may well do even worse this year. But it's hard to believe they can do that much worse, or that they can do much to change their standing among this group. It's also not clear that immigration is a big motivator for these voters: The GOP tried to use it in 2006 against the Democrats, and the effort pretty much fell flat on its face.
Actually, it did worse than that: It drove Latino voters toward the Democrats. Obama won 67 percent of Hispanics in 2008 -- a much better showing than Democrat made in 2004. The fear in 2010, however, is that Hispanics won't show up to vote. If Democrats actually pursue immigration reform, their participation becomes likelier. And if Republicans -- or tea partyers, or conservative talk radio -- overreact to the prospect of immigration reform, their participation becomes virtually assured.
Reid, under fire electorally at home, is personally motivated. From NDN's overview presentation on the rising Latino vote (PDF):
There will be tough contested Senate races in many of those states -- Reid's Nevada, of course, but also California, Colorado, Illinois, Florida, North Carolina, and maybe even Iowa, Washington, and Arizona. Meanwhile, we'll have hot governor races races in California, Iowa, Texas, Illinois, Georgia, New Mexico, and Florida. And almost all of these states will have bitterly contested House races.
Republicans will have a tough choice -- either play to the xenophobic nativist tendencies of their teabagger base, or limit damage to a Latino electorate that is growing at amazing rates. As Bush pollster Matthew Dowd told the Chicago Tribune in 2002:
We can't survive as a party without getting more of the Hispanic vote.
Or, as Dowd told the Wall Street Journal in 2006:
the fact (is) that the Latino vote in this country is the fastest-growing demographic of the electorate -- it's grown 400 percent in the last 20 years. So this is going to keep happening. It's dynamic, it's growing. And I think both political parties understand that it's a demographic that is probably one of the most important -- you know, who's going to have majority status in this country.
It's actually a good wedge for Democrats. They need Latinos properly motivated to hit the polls this November in order to help stem losses. Republicans need to stop their bleeding with this key and rapidly growing demographic. And without the nativism, the GOP would be well-positioned to compete for the Latino vote on social issues alone.
So both parties have reason to make immigration reform happen. It really will come down to how fearful the GOP's immigration moderates are of their teabagger base.