Ted Hesson, Politico, November 7, 2018
President Donald Trump’s intense focus on immigration in the run-up to the midterms appears to have stemmed GOP losses in Tuesday’s election, according to a POLITICO analysis of 34 close House, Senate and gubernatorial races.
Pre-election fears by some Republicans that Trump’s inflammatory immigration message would sink GOP candidates in tight races proved overblown. And while more authoritative analysis awaits further election returns and more detailed polling analysis, the message appears in some races to have worked.
“If he was not as effective as he was, I’m not certain that Republicans would have turned out in the way they did,” said Republican strategist Shermichael Singleton. “You’ve got to give credit to the president. He closed the gap by making this about him.”
Even so, several Republican candidates closely aligned with Trump’s immigration agenda were defeated, including Kansas gubernatorial nominee Kris Kobach and Rep. Dave Brat of Virginia.
In making immigration a major theme in the lead-up to the election, Trump succeeded at the very least in persuading voters it was a top issue, to judge from exit polls. For weeks, the president warned darkly that a caravan of Central-American migrants traveling north through Mexico en route to the United States represented an “invasion” and “national emergency.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who won reelection Tuesday by a relatively narrow margin over Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke, may have benefited the most from Trump’s immigration offensive.
Trump visited Houston to rally for Cruz in late October. While there, he tarred O’Rourke as a “a radical open-borders left-winger” and accused Democrats of “encouraging millions of illegal aliens to break our laws, violate our borders and overwhelm our nation.”
But other Republicans who embraced Trump’s hard-line immigration views went down Tuesday.
Todd Schulte, president of the Mark Zuckerberg-backed FWD.us, considered the outcome one of several that amounted to a rejection of Trump’s contentious immigration policies. In a written statement, Schulte called the election “a stunning rebuke for the leaders of the hard-line, anti-immigrant movement, with their champions losing badly.”
Kobach, Kansas’ secretary of state, fell in a three-way race for governor of that state. Kobach had advised Trump’s presidential campaign on immigration issues and played a lead role in the administration’s now-defunct commission to root out alleged voter fraud, which stemmed from the president’s baseless allegation that millions of undocumented immigrants had voted in the 2016 election.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) — an immigration hard-liner known for offensive, racially charged comments — struggled in an unusually close contest. Just days before the election, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Rep. Steve Stivers of Ohio called out King in an effort to “stand up against white supremacy and hate in all forms.”
King is projected to win his Iowa district by roughly 3 percent, a tiny margin in a reliably Republican area. Trump won the district by 27 percent in 2016.
Other Senate Democrats, such as Sens. Joe Donnelly of Indiana and, to a lesser extent, Missouri’s Claire McCaskill, embraced a tougher tone on immigration, but lost on Tuesday evening.