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As immigration debate heads to House, lawmakers targeted with polls, ads

Congressmen in swing districts, like Heck, getting a lot of attention


Leila Navidi

Barbara Teixeira, right, asks a question to U.S. Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev. during a Town Hall at Windmill Library in Las Vegas on Tuesday, July 2, 2013.

From the recent all-out blitz of advocacy advertisements targeting GOP congressman on immigration reform, it would be easy to mistake 2013 for a major election year.

Although, according to some recent polling, it may behoove some members of the House of Representatives to act like they are facing re-election a year early.

The SEIU is spending $200,000 on Spanish-language radio ads targeting the districts of a dozen GOP congressman who they hope will favor a reform package, including Nevada congressmen Mark Amodei and Joe Heck.

After the Senate passed a sweeping immigration bill, the pro-immigration reform organization The Dream is Now released a music video produced by David Guggenheim that is meant to spur viewers to contact their representative.

Even conservative-leaning, pro-reform organizations are getting in on the media onslaught.

The American Action Network is running an ad that touts the "border surge," a provision in the Senate legislation, without ever mentioning the Senate by name. At the end of the ad viewers are asked to call Congress and support "conservative immigration reform."

The Libre Initiative a fiscally conservative non-profit organization focused on Hispanic community advocacy, recently launched a multimedia campaign and a 30-second advertisement in seven states, including Nevada, that encourages contacting Congress.

Political observers all along have said the battle to pass substantial reform would be tougher in the House than the Senate, and after the Senate bill passed some GOP congressman immediately took aim at the legislation.

"The Senate bill, in my opinion, repeats the mistakes made by the Congress in 1986," said House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wisconsin, another member of the House Judiciary Committee, compared the Senate bill to the Affordable Care Act.

"The Senate bill is a 1,200-page boondoggle that has waivers and exemptions like those in Obamacare, giving Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet A. Napolitano broad discretion to 'waive the rules,'" Sensenbrenner wrote in the Washington Times.

Polling firm Latino Decisions released data Tuesday indicating that how the GOP handles immigration reform now could have big ramifications during the 2014 elections.

"Given that the Democrats need a net gain of just 17 seats to secure the majority, failure by the House Republicans to successfully navigate immigration legislation could prove quite costly for the GOP even if the vast majority of House Republicans win reelection with minimal competition," UNLV political scientist and Latino Decisions senior analyst David Damore wrote in the report.

In all the polling firm identified 44 Republican-held House seats in which Latino voters could influence the outcome of elections in 2014 and beyond based on the proportion of Hispanics in the population and previous margins of victory. Joe Heck, who represents Nevada's Third Congressional District, is in a "Tier 1" district according to Damore, where Hispanic voters are most likely to decide 2014 outcomes.

While some pundits have argued that Republicans must compromise on immigration reform or risk large disadvantages with Hispanic voters in local and national elections, others have argued that GOP lawmakers should stay true to their base.

"Republicans get a quarter and a third of the Hispanic vote, always have, there was no spike in Hispanic vote for Republicans after the last amnesty," Mark Krikorian, the executive director for the Center for Immigration Studies, told Bloomberg News. "... The idea that immigration is some kind of magic bullet and that Hispanic voters are going to flock to the Republican Party if they vote for it is silly. And the other thing is a lot of existing Republican voters will be demoralized and much more likely to stay home if this amnesty passes."

Damore, while noting that redistricting has made many Democratic and Republican-held districts safer, disputes that notion. Immigration reform is not an "animating issue" for most Republican primary voters and most Republican voters, in general, support the reforms advocated for by Hispanics, Damore argues. Hispanic population growth is occurring everywhere, including in Republican-held House districts. Additionally, some GOP congressmen are in very evenly split and diverse districts, such as Heck, that can add up to a shift in control of the House in 2014.

A Public Policy Polling survey of 544 likely voters in Heck's district also released Tuesday found that 40 percent of respondents would be less likely to support the second-term congressman next year if he votes against immigration reform, while 31 percent indicated they would be more likely to vote for him. More than two thirds of the voters polled thought it was important to pass some reform legislation this year, and 61 percent said they either "strongly support" or "somewhat support" the basic parameters of the Senate bill.

This may turn out to be one of the increasingly rare occasions where compromise on Capitol Hill may be both good policy and politics.

"... Republicans and Democrats in the House are vulnerable to Latino influence as there are sufficient House seats presently held by both parties where Latino voters can tilt the outcome in 2014 in a manner that determines which party controls the House of Representatives in 2015," Damore wrote in the Latin Decisions report. "Thus, despite ample commentary to the contrary, politicians from both parties have sufficient incentive to work together to produce a compromise immigration bill - a rare instance when good policy makes for good politics for both parties."

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