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President Barack Obama’s recent immigration directive could affect races beyond his own re-election campaign by boosting voter enthusiasm in key Congressional contests.
In some of the most competitive Senate and House races, the president’s proclamation will likely help fellow Democratic candidates in states with growing Latino populations while enraging his opposition in other close contests.
The president on Friday issued an executive order to end the deportation of many young undocumented immigrants. His words marked a turning point with a Latino electorate disappointed by the president’s failure to deliver immigration reform in his first term.
Even Republican strategists acknowledged the president’s new policy as politically advantageous with Latino voters.
“Obama has a wide lead with Hispanic support, but he’s definitely been having turnout and enthusiasm problems,” said Ana Navarro, a Florida-based GOP strategist. “His immigration announcement moved the needle on that ground.”
The results of the president’s policy change will trickle down the ballot to House and Senate races in key battlegrounds. Here is where the effects might be felt the most:
• The president’s policy could help boost Latino turnout in a few states with competitive Senate races, such as Nevada. Public polls show Rep. Shelley Berkley (D) trailing her opponent, appointed Sen. Dean Heller (R), by single digits. Similar polls show the president ahead in the Silver State, including by a massive margin with Latino voters. Census results show the Latino community makes up 27 percent of the state’s population, so any boost that the president receives here among the community probably helps Berkley, too.
To a lesser degree, the president’s decree could boost voter enthusiasm among Latinos in two other Senate battlegrounds: New Mexico and Virginia. Hispanics make up almost half of New Mexico’s population, but Democrats are favored to hold the open seat anyway.
The Hispanic community makes up only 8 percent of Virginia’s population, but the community is one of the fastest-growing in the country. Even a small boost could make the difference in the commonwealth’s tossup Senate race.
• On the other hand, Obama’s order could hurt Senate Democrats running in GOP-leaning states, such as Nebraska and Indiana. Democrats are defending open seats in both states, where their nominees are the underdogs.
It’s too early to quantify any adverse effects, but it’s clear the immigration issue excites the GOP base in those states. Republican candidates in Indiana and Nebraska brought up the issue in their respective primaries. Come November, the president’s order could give Republicans just one more reason to turn out.
• As one of the most conservative Members of the House, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) didn’t waste any time critiquing Obama’s policy. On Friday, King told the Des Moines Register that he plans to sue the president to suspend the executive order.
That kind of conservative vigor plays well in King’s current district, which gave Obama only 44 percent of the vote in 2008. But an independent commission redrew the 4th district to be more competitive, and now King faces former Iowa first lady Christie Vilsack in the first tough general election contest of his Congressional career.
• Finally, Friday’s announcement was welcome news for Democratic House candidates in states with growing Hispanic populations such as Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona.
The parties are already planning to compete for a couple of Denver-area House seats — reserving more than
$4 million in the Mile High City’s media market for fall TV advertisements. House Democrats have already invested in the Albuquerque and Tucson markets, both of which will likely host competitive races this fall — and have a growing Latino population.