Democratic House members hold all nine districts in four states that line the national border with Mexico, but polling data suggest Republicans may be poised to take a third of those seats in the November midterm elections.
According to Real Clear Politics, Republican challengers Jesse Kelly of Arizona, Steve Pearce of New Mexico and Quico Canseco of Texas are considered to be running in “toss-up” races in which Democratic incumbents face tough challenges on Nov. 2.
While immigration issues play a strong role in debates throughout the border districts, not all of the candidates are taking an equally hard line. Strong rhetoric against illegal immigration seems to be working in Arizona and Texas, but the Republican candidate in New Mexico is having similar success by taking a more moderate tone on the issue.
Both candidates running for Arizona’s 8th District, Democratic incumbent Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and Republican challenger Jesse Kelly, have called for sending the National Guard to defend the border and are making immigration a top issue in their campaigns. The state found itself embroiled in the middle of a national immigration debate when Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed a tough immigration enforcement bill into law earlier this year. Kelly has come out especially strong against illegal immigrants, saying he will “fight to dramatically” increase border security and has raised more than $500,000 for his campaign.
In Texas’ 23rd District, Republican challenger Quico Canseco has also taken a hard line against illegal immigration, a message that, if polls are any indicator, seems to be resonating. Calling illegal immigration “criminal” on his campaign website, Canseco includes a sentence that reads, “Amnesty is simply NOT AN OPTION.” He has raised nearly a million dollars for his campaign, just shy of incumbent Ciro Rodriguez’s $1.14 million.
In New Mexico’s 2nd District, however, GOP challenger Steve Pearce is considered a moderate on the issue. Although he supported building a fence along the Mexican border, the former Republican legislator once voted against a bill that would force hospitals to report immigrants they believe to be illegal and he received the lowest possible rating from the Federation of Americans for Immigration Reform, an anti-illegal immigrant group.
“There’s no one size fits all campaign strategy,” said Isaac Wood, communication director at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “For Republicans to win here, they can’t just use the same strategy in all the races.”
The possible loss of a border district monopoly could alter the tone of debate in 2011, when immigration advocacy groups plan to continue pressuring Congress to address the immigration issue.
Beyond the border races, Republicans will need to net 39 seats in total to take control of the House, a prospect analysts foresee as a likely, but not guaranteed, outcome of the November elections.
Jessica Puente contributed to this report.