Vulnerable Republicans follow Trump’s lead on immigration

Vulnerable Republicans follow Trump’s lead on immigration

During the House GOP’s last political meeting before hitting the campaign trail, Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanDebate with Donald Trump? Just say no Ex-Trump adviser says GOP needs a better health-care message for 2020 Liz Cheney faces a big decision on her future MORE (R-Wis.) urged members to localize their races and focus on issues like the economy, taxes and jobs.

But with a less than two weeks before the Nov. 6 midterm elections, many Republican candidates are taking their cues from President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump calls for Republicans to be 'united' on abortion Tlaib calls on Amash to join impeachment resolution Facebook temporarily suspended conservative commentator Candace Owens MORE and have turned the election into a fight over national policies on immigration, border security and crime.

“Republicans must make the horrendous, weak and outdated immigration laws, and the Border, a part of the Midterms!” Trump wrote on Twitter last week.

That same day, Rep. Andy BarrGarland (Andy) Hale BarrOn The Money: House chairman issues subpoenas for Trump's tax returns | Trump touts trade talks as China, US fail to reach deal | Five things to know about Trump's trade war with China | GOP offers support for Trump on tariffs GOP offers support for Trump on China tariffs Five things to know about Trump's trade war with China MORE (R-Ky.), whose race is listed by Cook Political Report as a “toss-up,” promoted an attack ad featuring Clark County Sheriff Berl Perdue, who labeled the Democratic candidate’s immigration agenda as “dangerous.”

“I oppose Amy McGrath’s dangerous agenda, which would open our borders and enable drug cartels to flood our towns with heroin and fentanyl,” Perdue says in the ad.

A few days later, Rep. Pete SessionsPeter Anderson SessionsHillicon Valley — Presented by CTIA and America's wireless industry — Lawmaker sees political payback in fight over 'deepfakes' measure | Tech giants to testify at hearing on 'censorship' claims | Google pulls the plug on AI council Lawmaker alleges political payback in failed 'deepfakes' measure As Russia collusion fades, Ukrainian plot to help Clinton emerges MORE (R-Texas), a GOP leadership ally who is in a toss-up race in the Dallas suburbs, tweeted that the “illegal caravan must be stopped.”

“A major difference between myself & my opponent: I believe these people should not enter the US, while Colin [Allred] wants to make all illegal immigrants citizens,” he wrote on Monday. “Vote EARLY to end immigration loopholes & secure our border!”

Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWarren policy ideas show signs of paying off Biden at campaign kickoff event: I don't have to be 'angry' to win Top Dem: Trump helps GOP erase enthusiasm gap; Ohio a big problem MORE narrowly won Sessions’s district in 2016.

The shift in messaging could pay off at the polls for some vulnerable GOP candidates, especially since immigration was a political winner in 2016 and because the Republican tax cuts have not resonated well on the campaign trail this year.

But the focus on border security risks alienating independent, moderate and Latino voters, which is why Republican leaders on Capitol Hill urged lawmakers to run hyperlocal campaigns that tout a more inclusive and positive economic message.

“Midterms are generally base elections, so immigration can be effective for Republicans,” said Texas-based GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak, while noting that the issue isn’t helpful to candidates like Reps. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloDisinvited GOP lawmaker turns up at Dem hearing Overnight Energy: 2020 rivals rip Biden over expected 'middle ground' climate plan | Dems cancel plans to invite Republican to testify on climate change | House passes .2B disaster aid bill over Trump objections Dems cancel plans to bring in Republican as climate change witness MORE (R-Fla.) and Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdHere are the eight Republicans who voted with Democrats on the Equality Act House approves anti-LGBT discrimination Equality Act Iraq War vet Ortiz Jones sets up rematch against Hurd in Texas MORE (R-Texas), as well as those in Southern California.

“There are winners and losers with this strategy among Republicans,” he added.

Trump has recently escalated his hard-line immigration rhetoric, reviving the same playbook that propelled him to victory two years ago and seizing on a “caravan” of Central American migrants making their way north toward the U.S. to seek asylum.

In campaign rallies and on Twitter, the president has repeatedly stoked fear that the caravan, which is still roughly 1,000 miles away from the U.S. border, is an imminent national security threat that will bring criminals, gangs and drugs into the country.

Trump has also warned that Democrats would allow open borders and “mob rule” if they win control of the House and Senate next month.

“This will be the election of the caravan, Kavanaugh, law and order, tax cuts and common sense,” Trump said Monday at a packed rally for Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward Cruz Eye-popping number of Dems: I can beat Trump 'SleepyCreepy Joe' and 'Crazy Bernie': Trump seeks to define 2020 Dems with insults The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition - Restrictive state abortion laws ignite fiery 2020 debate MORE (R-Texas), referring to the Senate confirmation battle over Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughACLU, Women's March to hold nationwide protests over abortion bans Warren calls for Congress to pass federal laws protecting Roe v. Wade The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition — Trump: GOP has `clear contrast' with Dems on immigration MORE.

Now, as Republicans make their closing arguments to voters, a number of GOP candidates are adopting a similar tone and putting immigration -- and the caravan -- front and center in their campaigns.

Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), who is in a toss-up race and has run campaign ads on health care, the economy and his bipartisan bill to stop medical research on dogs, shifted his focus back to immigration over the past few days.

“These folks coming up have commandeered highways going through Mexico with no respect for the law, and when they get here, do you think that will change?” Brat told the John Fredericks radio show on Monday. “My opponent made very clear she’s in favor of sanctuary cities for the criminals and gang members that are coming up. But instead of deporting the criminals and drug dealers, she wants to provide them a sanctuary in Virginia.”

Other vulnerable Republicans in the state are highlighting immigration issues, too.

Rep. Barbara ComstockBarbara Jean ComstockGOP lawmaker introduces bill to stop revolving door Ex-lawmakers face new scrutiny over lobbying Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign MORE (R-Va.) released an attack ad this month warning that her challenger opposes "deporting violent MS-13 gang members,” a frequent Trump target.

Last week, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) unveiled a TV ad labeling Rep. Scott TaylorScott William TaylorVirginia special prosecutor indicts former GOP campaign staffer The 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority Ex-GOP Rep. Ryan Costello joins group pushing carbon tax MORE’s (R-Va.) opponent as “dangerous” and “radical” when it comes to her immigration positions, which include opposing Trump’s proposed border wall.

The House GOP’s campaign arm also released an immigration ad this month in a key Arizona race, where former Rep. Ann KirkpatrickAnn KirkpatrickArizona Dems ask DHS to appoint 'crisis coordinator' at border Democrats introduce bill to let 'Dreamers' work for Congress Push for ‘Medicare for all’ worries centrist Dems MORE (D) and Republican candidate Lea Marquez Peterson are facing off to fill the seat being vacated by Rep. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallySenate Republicans running away from Alabama abortion law McSally to introduce military sexual assault reform bill Dem Senate campaign arm hits GOP lawmakers over Trump tax law MORE (R), who is running for Senate.

“They talk about solving illegal immigration, but nothing happens,” says a blonde-haired woman in the ad, as she locks her doors and windows as police lights flash outside. “We who live here are forgotten.”

The shift to immigration is likely a smart move for the GOP, say Republican strategists, who note fear tends to be a stronger motivating factor for voters in the midterms.

Additionally, the party’s message on tax cuts and the economy hasn’t resonated as strongly as expected on the campaign trail, whereas immigration and border security have fired up the GOP base, increasing the odds of higher voter turnout among those Republicans.

It’s a stark contrast from this summer, when Republicans were playing defense after Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy led to migrant families being separated at the U.S. border. But Mackowiak said the caravan, which has been broadcast all over cable news, is a “game changer” for the GOP.

“The family-separation policy was as politically bad for Republicans as the caravan story is for Democrats,” Mackowiak said.

But the tactic could isolate Latinos and moderates, who are expected to form crucial voting blocs in a number of key battleground districts.

Mackowiak acknowledged that some of the immigration rhetoric -- like Trump making unsubstantiated claims that “Middle Easterners” have joined the caravan -- are not helpful or necessary.

Republican candidate Maria Elvira Salazar, who is running in an open, “lean Democratic” race in South Florida, warned that not everyone will view the caravan as a bunch of criminals.

“You have to understand that Honduras is the most violent country in the hemisphere,” Salazar, a Cuban-American, said on Fox News last week. “And you would do it, too, if your daughter is facing to be raped.”

“I’m not condoning... I believe that we need to have very strict border security,” she added. “But you also have to understand that our neighbors are desperate.”