Immigration reform advocates have long warned Republicans to shape up on immigration reform or face the electoral consequences--in 2014, 2016, and beyond. But this very fall, just a stone's throw away from Washington, DC, the Virginia gubernatorial race between Ken Cuccinelli and Terry McAuliffe is also coming down to a referendum on immigration--and what happens when a candidate is perceived as anti-Hispanic and anti-immigrant in a quickly diversifying electorate.
The Virginia election will be about many other things as well, of course, like jobs and the economy and both candidates' weaknesses in discussing their business relationships. But Cuccinelli was a documented anti-immigrant hardliner before he began running this year, and that may come back to haunt him:
-- While on a conservative radio show in 2012, Cuccinelli compared immigrants to rats, saying: "They have to relocate the rats. And, not only that, that’s actually not the worst part, they cannot break up the families of the rats! So, anyway, it is worse than our immigration policy…You can’t break up rat families. Or raccoons, and all the rest, and you can’t even kill ‘em. Its unbelievable."
-- That may explain why Cuccinelli is apparent BFFs with another serial animal/immigrant comparison maker, Steve King--Cuccinelli in 2012 said that "Steve King is one of my very favorite congressmen."
-- And then there are the policy positions: Cuccinelli in the past has supported legislation that would amend the US Constitution and do away with birthright citizenship, and been in favor of self-deportation laws like Arizona's SB 1070.
In recent months, Cuccinelli has tried to soften his tone somewhat when it comes to immigration, and been caught scrubbing immigration issues off his website. But that's not fooling anyone, or making anyone think that Cuccinelli's stances are any less hardline than they used to be, despite former GOP state representative Jeff Frederick's claims that the only reason Cuccinelli cleaned up his website was because immigration is "not what people are thinking about."
Much more likely, Cuccinelli has realized that (according to a Harper poll) 85% of Virginians believe that it's important for Congress to fix the immigration reform system this year, and 69% support a path to citizenship.
This week, Cuccinelli brought Senator Marco Rubio to Virginia to campaign for him--a visit which only highlighted Cuccinelli's problematic history opposing immigration reform. Fredrick Kunkle from The Washington Post wrote about that history in an article today. Here's an excerpt:
Cuccinelli, Virginia’s attorney general, championed hard-line immigration policies while rising through the state ranks — but he has awkwardly sought to play down his record in hopes of not alienating Hispanics and Asians who represent a small but growing part of Virginia’s electorate.
Republican leaders have conceded that presidential nominee Mitt Romney damaged his candidacy last fall by promoting “self-deportation,” and some have pushed the party to embrace more liberal policies to woo Hispanics and move the issue off the agenda in future elections.
Cuccinelli isn’t quite doing that, but his appearance with Rubio at the tickets-only fundraiser suggests that he is trying to soften perceptions about his stand on immigration.
Cuccinelli spent his career pushing anti-immigrant policies. But that's a political liability these days -- even in Virginia (especially vote-rich Northern Virginia.)
We do agree with Cuccinelli on something he saidtoday at the Rubio event::
Cuccinelli spoke for fewer than 10 minutes before introducing Rubio, saying the eyes of the nation are fixed on the race to see how Republicans respond after being defeating by President Barack Obama in 2012.
Without any meaningful reforms in the way that he thinks about immigration, we doubt that Cuccinelli's cosmetic changes will be enough.