Ken Cuccinelli's Nativist Rhetoric Backfires Badly In General Election
Virginia GOP gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli appears to be paying the price for his anti-immigrant record. Cuccinelli backed Arizona’s draconian SB 1070 as the state attorney general and as a state senator he proposed several bills targeting immigrants and non-English speakers, and even equated US immigration policy to pest control. Cuccinelli’s harsh comparison was captured in this Spanish-language ad sponsored by People For the American Way:
While Cuccinelli’s nativism may have appealed to the Tea Party fringe, it has upset Latino voters — already alienated by the GOP’s extremist stance on immigration — and the majority of voters who back immigration reform.
But judging by interviews with Latino voters on Tuesday, the ad — which aired heavily on Spanish-language television in the weeks leading up to the election — resonated.
“He talks about our community with no respect,” said Umberto Adrian, a Manassas resident who was born in Bolivia and has lived in Virginia for 30 of his 60 years. “I can’t understand why a professional like him would refer to immigrants as if they are not human.”
Some Latino voters who said they were spurred to action by the commercial appeared to have their own interpretations of what Cuccinelli actually said.
“Cuccinelli called Hispanic people rats,” said Mary Alba, 74, a retired bakery worker. “I want people in office who know we need immigrant people. In this country we need people like immigrants, who work hard.”
Pedro Delcid, 40, perceived the remark in a slightly different, but equally derogatory, way. “This man was talking bad about our people. He said we reproduce like rats,” said Delcid, who lives in Manassas. “This is the one issue that brought me here today. I have an issue with the way he talks about immigrants.”
It’s not just anecdotal evidence either, as new polling from Latino Decisions sponsored by PFAW and America’s Voice reveals the extent of the damage from the GOP’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and policy positions:
Immigration weighs heavily in Latino and Asians’ voting decisions. Over half (53%) of Latinos rank immigration as the most important issue facing the Latino community that politicians should address. While the Asian community put other issues first, their voting choices are influenced by a candidate’s position on immigration reform. When asked about the role of immigration in their voting decisions, 53% of Latinos and 46% of Asians said it was either “the most important issue” or “one of the most important issues” in their “decision to vote, and who to vote for.”
Cuccinelli’s hardline immigration hurt not only him, but the Republican Party overall. After hearing a statement from Cuccinelli comparing immigrant families to rat families, 70% of Latinos and 59% of Asians said it made them look less favorably on the Republican Party as a whole. The comments were most salient to foreign-born Latinos and US-born Asians, who said it made them view the GOP more negatively at a rate of 75% and 74% respectively. After learning that Cuccinelli sponsored a bill as state Senator that would allow employers to fire any workers who did not speak English, 75% of Latinos and 67% of Asians said this made them less favorable to the Republican Party as a whole.
Added Gary Segura, Professor of American Politics and Chair of Chicano/a Studies, Stanford University and Co-Founder of Latino Decisions, "Hostility to immigrants--once a political wedge that worked for Republicans--has clearly now become an Achilles' heel for the Party. Latinos and Asians, climbing towards 10% of the electorate in Virginia, are clearly and profoundly put off by GOP rhetoric on this litmus-test issue for these immigrant-heavy communities. Continued antagonism toward immigration reform has the potential to erode or erase GOP competitiveness in this important and growing purple state."
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