El Flip Flop Mas Grande
By Al Giordano
Senators John McCain and Barack Obama were both co-sponsors of the Immigration Reform Bill of 2007, but McCain, being a Republican, took far more heat for it from his party bases. Right wing talk radio hosts and bloggers were outraged. Rush Limbaugh called it "the Comprehensive Destroy the Republican Party Act of 2007," because it would have opened a path to citizenship for twelve million undocumented Americans who would then presumably utilize that citizenship to participate and vote in elections (Limbaugh believes that they would vote mostly Democratic).
The turning point toward what will inevitably bring that reform (just as all waves of immigrants throughout American history have always been legalized after initial prejudiced campaigns against them wore off) came on May 1, 2006, when millions participated in gigantic demonstrations throughout the country (half a million in Los Angeles alone) for immigrant rights. It was the first General Strike - in which workers from many professions walked off the job in protest, and also students of all ages - in the United States in more than 70 years, dwarfing any protest on any issue in recent US history.
Politicians were fearful: Only two US Senators - Ted Kennedy and Obama - participated in the street marches on that day two years ago. That fear continued into 2007 when many US senators, Democrat and Republican alike, that had originally pledged their support for the bill folded at the eleventh hour and voted against it.
Still, McCain expected to be able to reap the electoral benefits of his high-profile cosponsorship of the 2007 reform bill. In June of 2007 his own campaign advisors said as much to the Washington Post:
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is not wavering on immigration. This week, he continued to stand firm with President Bush in seeking a Senate compromise on the issue in the face of intense opposition from core activists in the Republican Party.
His advisers refer to such a stance as one of the signatures of his political career: principled stands on tough issues.
But by November of last year, McCain, too, flipped positions on his "signature" issue:
Now, the Republican presidential candidate emphasizes securing the borders first. The rest, he says, is still needed but will have to come later.
"I understand why you would call it a, quote, shift," McCain told reporters Saturday after voters questioned him on his position during back-to-back appearances in this early voting state. "I say it is a lesson learned about what the American people's priorities are. And their priority is to secure the borders."
He repeated his new stance again and again during debates with his GOP rivals who had tried to hammer him over his original support for the reform.
That flip flop has driven, according to polls, a massive rejection of McCain by Hispanic voters. Immigration reform is, hands down, the most outcome-determinative issue among millions of voters in 2008 (during the Univision Spanish-language debate among Democratic presidential candidates, seventy percent of the thousands of written questions sent in by viewers were about the reform bill).
A new Research 2000 nationwide poll echoes what all other surveys have revealed about the Hispanic vote between Obama and McCain: Obama towers with 65 percent to 24 for McCain and one percent each for Bob Barr and Ralph Nader (this, even as Nader tapped Matt Gonzales as his vice presidential candidate: one of the paradoxes of Nader's proclaimed progressivism is that historically his candidacies have only appealed to a certain segment of white voters; part of this is caused by his own recent "talking white" statements - in psychobabble parlance, "he has issues" that impede him ever becoming a coalescing force among the multi-racial left). That leaves 9 percent more up for grabs and if Obama doesn't commit a misstep in who he names for vice president (more on that in a moment) he will be well positioned to sop the bulk of those votes up, too, potentially bringing him over 70 percent of the vote among the fastest growing demographic group in the electorate.
The Obama campaign has deployed an army of organizers and "Obama Fellows" to register Hispanic voters from Las Vegas to Las Cruces and everywhere else, changing the electoral math particularly in the swing states of Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado and Florida but also, very significantly, in Texas. Eight million Hispanic Americans voted in 2006. To win two thirds of their votes would bring an advantage of 2.7 million votes nationwide. Now, watch the numbers tick upward: Two thirds of, say, 10 million would bring an advantage of 3.4 million for Obama. Or if 12 million Hispanic-Americans vote in November, that would mean a margin of four million votes more for Obama than for McCain, and heavily concentrated in some major battleground states.
Obama's success so far among Latinos, and Mexican-Americans (the largest subgroup) in particular is striking because of efforts during the primaries to play the race card and turn Latinos and blacks against each other (your correspondent witnessed a very ugly example of that during the Nevada caucuses last January).
Had McCain not switched positions, he could have made a real play for those voters (George W. Bush had unprecedented success for a Republican winning Hispanic votes in Texas and later nationwide). But they're not going to forgive him, unless...
There's only one thing Obama could do to lose the goodwill he is building among Hispanic-American voters, the very demographic groups who could seal his landslide victory in November. I'm going to put it on the table, right out into the open: There are some names being floated on the alleged "short list" of vice presidential nominees for the Democrat. They include three US Senators that voted against immigration reform last year: Jim Webb of Virginia (who has said he's not interested in the post), Claire McCaskill of Missouri, and Evan Bayh of Indiana. The press has blown Bayh, in particular, some kisses of late in the veepstakes reporting.
To pick a running mate that voted against the 2007 Immigration Reform Bill would give McCain the opening to pull a large chunk of the Hispanic vote back into the GOP column, and would have a wet blanket effect on the growing enthusiasm for Obama among this sector, dampening voter turnout.
In politics, there are flip flops, and then there are flip flops big enough to matter, but the cave-in last year on immigration reform - more than on any other issue - by some Democratic legislators, and later last year by Senator McCain, constituted the biggest flip flop of all: the one that could lose somebody the presidency this year.
Obama can pick any governor, any legislator that voted for immigration reform, or anyone from any sector that did not vote against it last year, and still run away with the Hispanic vote in November. But to pick a member of Congress that voted against it would provoke a backlash with real consequences in voter turnout and the Electoral College with a force that probably cannot be found on any other single issue in 2008.
With Caroline Kennedy on the vetting committee, and her family's singular commitment to immigration reform, I'm not particularly concerned that this factor will go unnoticed in these final weeks as a VP nominee is being selected, but when names like Bayh's are floated in the media, his 2007 vote against immigration reform has to be brought up again and again, because it is that large of a deal breaker.