This story is going to pose problems for the Republican party in the short and long term — in a specific race, and overall:
A California Republican’s congressional campaign went into meltdown Thursday after he said a staff member was responsible for sending thousands of letters to new voters with Hispanic surnames telling them — wrongly — that it is illegal for them to vote if they are immigrants.
Tan Nguyen, the GOP candidate for California’s 47th District, said in a statement that a staff member had sent the letters without his knowledge and has since been fired. Nguyen, himself an immigrant from Vietnam, has focused his campaign on keeping illegal immigrants
out of the country, a deeply felt issue in suburban Orange County.
Honestly: this site and others are not picking on the GOP. It’s just that seldom in recent political history has there been such a seeming meltdown in key individual races and on a national scale as we’re seeing now.
The GOP’s meltdown is becoming so graphic that Al Gore may soon do a documentary about it.
The problem with this latest bit of bad news is that Republicans in California are still reeling over problems with Hispanic voters stemming from Republican Governor Pete Wilson’s term. They are disinclined to vote Republican, unless it’s for Arnold Schwarzenegger who has rapidly reconstituted the coalition that put him in office during the recall. MORE:
Tan Nguyen, who is challenging Rep. Loretta Sanchez in Orange County, said a staff member sent the letters without his knowledge
“The mailer was flawed and ill-conceived,” Nguyen’s statement said. “I will do whatever I can in the weeks before the election to encourage all citizens in this district to exercise the most important of their democratic privileges.”
The Orange County Republican Party immediately called for Nguyen to withdraw from the race. He will hold a news conference today.
Because the GOP is also reeling over the larger debate over immigration policy, a debate that has split the GOP itself. Many Hispanic voters are irked at the Republican hard liners for stressing border enforcement while saying they want to delay adjusting the status of some illegal aliens/undocumented workers (pick your phrase of choice) who are already here. They believe “delay” means never get to it.
President George Bush and his political guru Karl Rove have made no secret over the fact that one of their long range goals was to expand and solidify support for the Republican party among Hispanic voters — a goal sandbagged by conservative GOPers’ handling of the immigration issue.
If sandbags had been used so effectively in New Orleans last year, George Bush would have been hailed for his handling of Hurricane Katrina.
This bogus letter now gives ammunition to those Democrats and Hispanics (particularly Hispanic political activists) who say the Republicans can’t be trusted — even though the letter appears to be the act of one person and not part of some big conspiracy (as most people seemingly know, Karl Rove may be too busy planning his October surprise…:)
Written in Spanish, the letters advise recently registered voters that it is a crime for those in the country illegally to vote in a federal election, which is true. They also say, falsely, that immigrants may not vote and could be jailed or deported for doing so, that the federal government has a new computer system to verify voter names, and that anti-immigration organizations can access the records.
As many as 14,000 letters were sent in the district, now represented by Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D). The letterhead identified them as coming from the California Coalition for Immigration Reform.
The group denied responsibility, and California Attorney General Bill Lockyer launched an investigation into possible violations of two state laws that prohibit intimidation to suppress voting. On a radio program, Lockyer confirmed that his office was focused on a Republican congressional candidate.
Sanchez said she has called for a federal probe into possible violations of the Voting Rights Act. “We would like to find who did this and have them prosecuted,” she said.
Local Republicans have largely ignored the race, though Sanchez’s seat is not normally considered safely Democratic. The district narrowly went for President Bush in 2004.
The bottom line: a lot about this affair remains murky except that it’s clear there is not some high-level Republican party plot behind it.
Another undeniable fact: it’s a “dirty trick” of incredible stupidity that will have Democrats rubbing their hands with political glee.
Because in the end the Democrats got something priceless: a widely covered news story suggesting that someone who is a Republican wanted to lie to Hispanic voters to suppress their votes — to keep them from voting Democratic.
So just guess who many of these voters will vote for as a result of this letter?
Even worse, even though it’s the act of one person, it adds yet ANOTHER news story and ANOTHER “high concept” image of the Republican party seemingly being less about values and principles and being concerned with one goal above all else: to get and retain power at all costs.
Unfair? That’s almost irrelevant. The operative problem is this:
With three weeks to go before elections this is the kind of imagery the GOP in California and nationally doesn’t want — especially during a year when most Hispanic voters are already poised to vote for Democrats and shatter the Bush/Rove dream of adding the rapidly growing Hispanic population to the Republican coalition.