Arizona Senate Race Could Be First Test of Republicans’ New Approach to Latinos

The Arizona Senatorial primary pitting incumbent John McCain and right-wing challenger J.D. Hayworth could become a test for the Republican Party’s future relationship with Latino voters.

Hayworth has made clear that immigration is one of the main subjects on which he is challenging McCain from the right, since the senator has advocated immigration reform in the past (although he flip flopped on it during the 2008 presidential campaign.)

Whatever It Takes, a book on immigration by J.D. Hayworth - Photo: Amazon

Cover shot for Whatever It Takes, a book on immigration by J.D. Hayworth. (Photo: Amazon)

In a recent interview with the Christian Science Monitor, Hayworth advocated a “broken window” policy, saying “when you start enforcing the law, people respond to that action.”

“If [Obama] really wanted a grand public works project, building and securing the border and ports of entry makes common sense,” he says. “It’s unconscionable [that] we spent almost a decade after 9/11 and have failed to protect our border.”

[ Underdog Hayworth says he’ll rap McCain on illegal immigration – CSM ]

Hayworth’s campaign website compares both candidates’ stances toward immigration reform under the headline “Who shares your values?“.

McCain, it says, “wrote the bill granting amnesty to millions of illegal aliens. McCain’s bill was estimated to cost the taxpayers more than $2.6 Trillion.”

Hayworth, on the other hand, “helped lead the fight against the McCain-Kennedy amnesty bill. JD is a national leader in the fight to secure our borders and protect our nation.” (And of course it notes that he “wrote the book” on the issue, referring to “Whatever It Takes: Illegal Immigration, Border Security and the War on Terror.”)

“It is no surprise that he has been endorsed by great leaders like Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and State Senator Russell Pearce,” the site notes elsewhere, referring to two of the most controversial conservative figures in the Arizona immigration debate.

While Hayworth received the endorsement of the right-wing restrictionist Americans for Legal Immigration Political Action Committee on Tuesday, McCain has the support of some Republicans who are looking for a way to attract Latinos by promising immigration reform, including noted Washington D.C. organizer Grover Norquist.

[On Tuesday, CQ Politics reported that the McCain campaign said in a press release “that the Anti-Defamation League has raised questions about ALI-PAC and complained in 2009 that it ‘disseminates its message with virulent, anti-immigrant rhetoric.'”]

In pitting these forces against each other, the August 24th race takes the air of a test for this new Republican approach. A McCain victory could arguably show the way to those Republicans who want to walk towards the center on immigration so as not to miss out on the biggest electoral-demographic trend of this century, the accelerated growth of the Hispanic voting population.

Hayworth’s getting to the Senate on a strident anti-immigration platform, on the other hand, could wreck that strategy at a time when conservative groups opposed to “amnesty,” like the Tea Partiers, are ascendant within and without the GOP. However, NPR’s Ken Rudin reminds in his Political Junkie blog that Hayworth was voted out of the House not that long ago:

“Voters had also tired of Hayworth’s anti-immigration tirades, which many Republicans insist is self-defeating … Ed Gillespie, a former RNC chair who was involved in last year’s gov race in Virginia, said (Virginia Gov.) Bob McDonnell reached out to Hispanics, ‘instead of indulging in the anti-immigration rhetoric of past Republican campaigns.'”

Hayworth has great possibilities of alienating the Hispanic voters the party now realizes it will need. He has associated illegal immigration with “crime and … other social problems”; called the Arizona border area an “environmental wasteland” and “a veritable war zone”; blamed undocumented immigrants for having “interrupted training” at the Barry Goldwater bombing range and leaving “six tons of trash a day” and transporting “tons of marijuana.” He also said Mexico “has acted more as an accomplice in illegal immigration than a partner in preventing it.”

AboutDiego Graglia
Diego Graglia is a bilingual multimedia journalist who has worked at major media outlets in the U.S. and Latin America. He is currently the editor-in-chief at Expansion, Meixco’s leading business magazine.