When voters in one of California’s most conservative congressional districts go to the polls on Tuesday, they will find a wild card on the ballot: The founder of the Minuteman movement, who has become a lightning rod in the furor over America’s borders.
While Jim Gilchrist—leader of a volunteer border patrol group once slammed as “vigilantes” by President George W. Bush—is considered a long shot to win the special election to fill a seat vacated by Republican Christopher Cox, he has mined a deep vein of voter anger over illegal immigration.
“I have struck the mother lode of patriotism,” Gilchrist told Reuters, referring to polls showing 80 percent of Californians were concerned about immigration.
Experts say that if Gilchrist is a one-issue candidate he has picked the right issue in California—where immigration has long been the third rail of politics. Democrats have long been unwilling to alienate Hispanics and Republicans are seen as determined to appease businesses that depend on cheap immigrant labor.
“Gilchrist has the most emotional issue. A lot of people hate illegal immigration. And on that issue alone he is going to be able to motivate (voters),” said Republican political strategist Allan Hoffenblum. “There’s a lot of frustration and nobody is coming up with any answers.”
That means that Gilchrist, an American Independent Party candidate, would make it into any runoff, presumably against the favorite, former Republican state Sen. John Campbell, and former Democratic state Assemblywoman Marilyn Brewer.
Brewer would hope that, in a runoff, Gilchrist and Campbell would split the Republican vote.