Migrant Caravans, California, and the Midterm By Nicky Riordan
The California State Legislature passed various protections for immigrants in late 2017 making California the first "sanctuary state." Stark internal division within the state and the political parties on immigration is nothing new. The current political climate under the Trump Administration and Jeff Sessions’ Department of Justice, paired with high-stakes midterm elections later this year, have brought new life to the conversation. This series will analyze nuanced dynamics of immigration policy and ideology across California during the 2018 midterm campaign.
As Democrats focus on healthcare and tax policy in the final run up to the 2018 midterms, President Trump and some endangered Republicans are shifting back to immigration and violent crime as key issues at stake in the election. Pointing to the migrant caravan en route to the United States, Trump has resorted to blaming Democrats for the impending situation and warning the American people of the “national emergency” underway. This is one more tactical step in appeals to Trump’s base ahead of potential losses predicted for the House next week.
As part of this strategy, Republicans are attempting to use California as an example of failed immigration policy to rile up supporters, even falsely alluding to statewide riots on the issue. At recent rallies in Nevada and Texas, Trump decried California for its sanctuary state policies and regulations, and Republican candidates and Governors Associations in Colorado and Florida have followed suit.
While this message may resonate with the base in other states, it is unlikely to work in districts that simultaneously voted for Hillary Clinton and a Republican House candidate in 2016. Aside from open seats, these districts present the greatest threat to the Republican majority.
Although Trump wants to make California politics a central rallying point in the midterms, in many California congressional races this year, Trump hasn’t been mentioned much at all. Indeed, unlike the more comfortable Republican incumbents in California like Duncan Hunter, California congressional candidates in tight races are continuing to steer clear of addressing Trump or the immigration issue head-on - despite the recent news cycle.
As I wrote previously, in a state that is fairly supportive of SB 54 and quickly approaching a majority Latino population, the issue of immigration is much more nuanced than national politics may suggest; and polling has shown that in some of the most contentious and competitive Southern California Congressional races, a majority of voters outright reject the idea of a border wall. Whereas Trump’s strategy to ignite racial tensions before the midterms may help in some areas, it could also be the last nail in the coffin for California Republicans hanging by a thread.
Nationally, recent polling maintains that voters trust the Democratic party more than Republicans on immigration, and the issue falls behind the economy, health care, and the state of our politics in 2018. This may be why Democrats are focusing on issues other than immigration.
The same recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that women, Latino, and young voters who express a high interest in the midterms has doubled of late and projections for a House takeover by Democrats remains steady - indicating that the current strategy being employed by Democrats may not change in the closing days. The move toward racial and cultural issues by Republicans across the country is unlikely to become part of the rhetoric in California without a massive late shift in public opinion.
Nicky Riordan (@nriordan120), Political Analyst, The Utica College Center of Public Affairs and Election Research, reporting from California