By Alexander Bolton - 06/27/13 10:00 AM EDT
Republicans plan to use votes for the Senate immigration reform bill to campaign against vulnerable incumbent Democratic Sens. Mark Pryor (Ark.), Mary Landrieu (La.) and Kay Hagan (N.C.).
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), the lead Democratic sponsor of the bill, will achieve a big legislative victory this week by keeping the Democratic caucus unified in support of the bill.
State Republican Party leaders say Democrats who support the bill will see television attack ads on the issue in 2014.
“It’s just another sign that even vulnerable Democrats like Landrieu, Begich, Hagan and Pryor are more loyal to Chuck Schumer and Barack Obama than they are to middle-class men and women struggling in their home states,” said Brad Dayspring, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Dayspring clarified his comment Thursday after a pro-immigration GOP strategist anonymously criticized him in an interview with ABC. Dayspring said his quote was used “a bit out of context” and explained that while the NRSC doesn't plan a major focus on the issue or to engage in a national effort around the legislation, it believes immigration reform could hurt several Democratic Senators at home.
Sen. Mark Begich (Alaska) is another Democrat running for reelection in a conservative-leaning state. He’s in a better position than some of his colleagues because Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) will also vote for the legislation.
Pryor, Landrieu and Hagan will get no such support from their Republican home-state colleagues. Sens. John Boozman (R-Ark.), David Vitter (R-La.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) will vote against final passage of the legislation.
Republican strategists say their party needs to improve its performance among Hispanic voters, the fastest growing major electoral bloc, to remain competitive in future elections.
But they view Hispanic voters as more important in the 2016 presidential election than the 2014 midterm elections, which will have lower turnout.
In 2012, Hispanic voters made up 2 percent of Arkansas’s electorate, 3 percent of Louisiana’s electorate, and 4 percent of North Carolina’s voters, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
GOP strategists expect immigration reform to be a liability for Democratic senators in those states because of growing attention on the debate in Congress.
Jason Doré, the executive director of the Republican Party of Louisiana, said he expects Landrieu’s race to include ads on immigration next year.
He said immigration reform could even eclipse her votes for the 2010 Affordable Care Act and expanded background checks for gun sales.
“Immigration reform is one of these issues that is percolating and growing in voters’ consciousness. It could end up being more powerful than these other things,” Doré said.
Landrieu attracted attention earlier this month by calling the southern border fence “dumb.”
Democrats argue that Republicans have overestimated the potency of the issue.
Sen. Michael Bennet (Colo.), a member of the Gang of Eight and chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said the bill will help Democrats in agricultural states.
“In the rural parts of Colorado — I can speak for that — there’s widespread support for this bill,” he said, adding “it’s the same” for Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina.
“You have people whose businesses rely on our fixing this problem, and they’re going to be people who voted to help fix it and that’s good,” he said.
Justin Barasky, spokesman for the DSCC, accused Republicans of insincerity in the immigration reform debate.
“Republicans said they were committed to learning from their mistakes and fostering bipartisan compromise on comprehensive immigration reform. Guess they were lying,” he said.
Republicans say they do want to fix what they view as a broken immigration system but argue the Senate bill will not guarantee border security before putting millions of illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship.
“Sen. Boozman is standing up for the approach that we have to deal with the problem of border security. Once we get a handle on that issue, we’re going to address the issue of legalization or the path to citizenship,” said David Ray, communications director of the Republican Party of Arkansas.
He said Republicans will criticize Pryor over his vote for the pending immigration reform bill, as well as past votes on the issue.
Ray noted that in 2006 Pryor voted against an amendment that to bar immigrants from claiming Social Security credits for work done while they were in the country illegally. The Senate voted this week to include that prohibition in the current bill.
Republicans say they will use Pryor’s vote to argue that he is a “rubber stamp” for the Democratic leadership.
“This is not the first time that we’ve seen Sen. Pryor’s tendency to side with the wish
es of Senate leadership and the administration over the wishes of voters in Arkansas,” he said.
To back up his argument, he pointed to a Christian Science Monitor article from May 2006 that reported Pryor voted against the Social Security amendment after an unnamed Democratic aide urged: “Hurry! We need your vote!”
North Carolina Republicans intend to wield similar arguments against Hagan because of her support for the Senate bill.
“Kay Hagan’s latest vote helps push an irresponsible agenda that threatens families and workers across the Tar Heel State,” said Mike Rusher, chief of staff of the North Carolina Republican Party.
Conservatives have already targeted Begich for a special provision he won in the bill to ensure seasonal labor for Alaska’s seafood processing industry. Critics call it the “Crabhusker kickback.”
“I am determined to make sure Alaska seafood industry employers have the reliable pool of seasonal help they need to maintain adequate processing capacity,” Begich said Monday.
Updated on Thursday, June 27 at 3:20 p.m.