Dems fighting for political lives tout support for border security

Red-state Democrats are touting their border security bona fides as President TrumpDonald John TrumpButtigieg surges ahead of Iowa caucuses Biden leads among Latino Democrats in Texas, California Kavanaugh hailed by conservative gathering in first public speech since confirmation MORE hammers the issue in the final week of the midterm elections.

Democrats — hoping to eke out wins in states where Trump triumphed in 2016—have focused on their ability to work with the administration on the border, even as the president and their GOP opponents try to paint them as obstructionists on immigration.

Immigration has emerged as an explosive, and deeply divisive, issue in the Trump era. The president is barnstorming key Senate states this week, accusing Democrats of supporting “open borders, socialism and crime.” And he released an ad that appeared to link Democrats to criminal migrants.

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Seventy-eight percent of registered voters say immigration will be extremely or very important to them as they determine who to vote for in the midterms, according to a Gallup poll released Friday, including 84 percent of GOP or Republican leaning voters and 74 percent of Democrats or voters who lean toward the party.

And several Democrats locked in close Senate races that will make or break who controls the chamber next year have talked up their support for Trump as they try to appeal to moderate and crossover Trump voters they desperately need to attract to win reelection.

Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillGOP senator rips into Pelosi at Trump rally: 'It must suck to be that dumb' Iranian attacks expose vulnerability of campaign email accounts Ex-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity MORE (D-Mo.) aligned herself with Trump on border security this week, telling Fox News that she “100 percent supports” Trump on preventing a migrant caravan from entering the United States.

“The impression he's giving Missourians that somehow, the Democrats are in favor of our border being overrun. I am not. I support the president 100 percent doing what he needs to do to secure the border,” she added in a separate press conference with reporters.

A Fox News Poll released this week showed McCaskill in a tie with Republican Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley in a state Trump won by nearly 20 percentage points.

In Tennessee, former Gov. Phil Bredesen, the Democratic Senate candidate, released an ad highlighting his decision to send troops to the border in 2006. He also referenced the decision in an op-ed he published about the caravan, saying while the “potential for chaos is high” it is “an occasion for everyone to act like grownups.”

Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinFormer coal exec Don Blankenship launches third-party presidential bid Centrist Democrats seize on state election wins to rail against Warren's agenda Overnight Energy: Senate eyes nixing 'forever chemicals' fix from defense bill | Former Obama EPA chief named CEO of green group | Senate reviews Interior, FERC nominees criticized on ethics MORE (D-W.Va.) became the latest Democrat to play up his position on border security as he fended off attacks from West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey during a debate on Thursday night.

“I’ve been against sanctuary cities. I’ve clamped down,” Manchin said. “I think we should do everything we can to secure the borders. ...We have to have walls, at least 700 to 900 miles.”

The rhetoric comes as Trump has seized on the migrant caravan as part of his closing argument for the midterms.

Trump has ordered thousands of troops to the U.S.-Mexico border, and created a political firestorm when he floated, during an interview with Axios, that he could change birthright citizenship by executive order — something legal experts have said he cannot do.

While a number of Republicans pushed back at Trump, some vulnerable Democrats expressed an openness to the birthright citizenship proposal, highlighting their need to look tough on immigration.

Democratic Sen. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyWatchdog accuses pro-Kavanaugh group of sending illegal robotexts in 2018 Lobbying world Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand MORE (Ind.) opened the door during a debate to potentially supporting changes to birthright citizenship.

“We have to take a look at that legislation. ... I’d want to see that legislation, make sure it was constitutional and review it first,” he said.

Manchin said that Trump couldn’t change the 14th Amendment by executive order but the issue was “worthy of looking at” and that Trump should ask Congress to bring a bill to the floor to see if it can get the votes.

Democrats argue they have been for additional border security funding since before Trump took over the White House. The National Border Patrol Council, a union that represents roughly 18,000 border patrol agents and personnel, endorsed Democratic Sens. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampThe Hill's Morning Report — Biden steadies in third debate as top tier remains the same Trump wins 60 percent approval in rural areas of key states Pence to push new NAFTA deal in visit to Iowa MORE (N.D), Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterTester: Our forefathers would not have tolerated Trump asking Ukraine to investigate Biden The Hill's Morning Report - Fallout from day one of Trump impeachment hearing Veterans face growing threat from online disinformation MORE (Mont.) and McCaskill in their reelection campaigns.

But a perceived shift toward the president could anger progressive voters, who Democrats will need to turn out for them if they’re going to win on Tuesday.

CREDO Action co-director Heidi Hess called Donnelly’s rhetoric on immigration “morally reprehensible and politically foolish.”

“By pretending even briefly that ending birthright citizenship is a reasonable idea worthy of consideration by the Senate, Donnelly is playing directly into Trump's hands,” she added.

Donnelly is running neck-and-neck against businessman Mike Braun in Indiana.

It’s not the first time Democrats have aligned themselves with the president on border and immigration issues.

Manchin, in an ad released over the summer, said he “voted to fund President Trump’s wall. Check the vote.”

Donnelly went up with a similar ad saying he voted three times to fund the wall. And Heitkamp, who is trailing Rep. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerGOP senators balk at lengthy impeachment trial GOP senators plan to tune out impeachment week Trump encounters GOP resistance to investigating Hunter Biden MORE (R-N.D.) in public polling, said in a statement in August that she supports “increased and enhanced border security,” including wall funding.

McCaskill voted in 2017 to provide $25 billion for border security, including fencing, as part of a larger immigration deal, but has questioned the effectiveness of a wall. During a hearing in 2017 she called Trump's pledge to build a wall along the entire border and have Mexico pay for it "embarrassing." 

“It’s not going to happen. Everybody in Congress knows it’s not going to happen. ... It appears the only person who won’t say it out loud is the president,” McCaskill said at a hearing with then-Department of Homeland Security Secretary John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE.

Republicans argue the rhetoric from red-state Democrats on border security is a sign of Trump’s potency in the Senate races, even as his nationwide approval rating remains stuck in the low 40s.

“I think that's been one of the most frustrating parts of the cycle that people don't believe Trump is as powerful in these states as he is,” said a GOP strategist watching the Senate battle.

And Republican Senate hopefuls have lashed out at the rhetoric from Democrats, arguing it's a transparent attempt to win over moderates and Trump voters whom they will need.

Hawley told Fox News that McCaskill’s attempt to paint herself as willing to work with Trump was a “bunch of nonsense.” In Tennessee, the Senate Leadership Fund, a GOP outside group, hit Bredesen in an ad as “too liberal to care” about the migrant caravan and that he “strongly opposes” the border wall.

Morrisey, in the debate on Thursday night, said he was opposed to “amnesty,” but that Manchin was for “open borders,” which would make the “drug epidemic” in West Virginia worse.

Though Manchin has said he supports the border wall, Republicans have seized on interviews he gave in 2017, where he said he didn’t support building a wall “at all.”  

“Senator Manchin supported health care for illegal immigrants,” Morrisey said. “We know that he’s supported open borders and we know that he’s been on both sides of the border wall.”