Can liberal Republican Christopher Shays be elected to the U.S. Senate from the notoriously “blue” state Connecticut —based on his immigration record?
It may seem unlikely. However, the issue is worth a closer look.
The last GOP congressman from New England, Shays lost Connecticut’s 4th District, which he had held since 1987, in Obama’s 2008 landslide in the state. But prior to that, he had one of the strongest records on immigration enforcement and reduction of any of the members of the House of Representatives.
Below is Shay’s record as compiled by NumbersUSA:
Reduce Visa Lottery
Reduce Refugee and Asylum Fraud
Reduce Anchor Baby Citizenship
Reduce Illegal Immigration at Borders
Challenge Status Quo
Reduce Chain Migration
Reduce Illegal Immigration Rewards
Reduce Illegal Jobs and Presence
Reduce Unnecessary Worker Visas
Reduce Amnesty Enticements
Chris Shays earned his F on Amnesty Enticements for votes he took before 2006. Thereafter, his votes on immigration were steadfastly immigration reduction and enforcement. If the earlier votes for amnesty are disregarded, Chris Shays would have an A+ on the issues of immigration.
So if Shays were elected to the Senate, he would have one of the strongest records on immigration—NumbersUSA ranks the U.S. Senate overall at an ignominious C (and the House at an appalling C-).
Before thinking about a Republican winning an election in an overwhelmingly “blue” state, we should understand the nomination and election process in Connecticut. First, there is a May 18th convention, at which approximately 1,200 delegates from the 164 towns vote on the state-wide nominees. The delegate receiving a majority vote receives the party nomination. However, if any candidate gets 15% of the votes, there is a primary held in August.
Even without getting 15% in the convention, a candidate in Connecticut can still force a primary by conducting a petition campaign and obtaining some 10,000 valid signatures. If that doesn’t work, a candidate can petition to get on the ballot as a candidate as an independent by conducting a petition campaign and obtaining enough signatures.
This is what Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman did in 2006: he was rejected by a Democratic Convention, lost in a primary vote, put himself on the ballot as an independent—and won the general election!
So the notion of an independent winning a statewide election in Connecticut is not so farfetched as it may seem.
In 2012, Joe Lieberman is retiring. There is no overwhelmingly well-known and well-liked Democrat on the horizon for in November. Polls suggest the Democratic candidate will probably be Rep. Chris Murphy of Connecticut’s 5th District (NumbersUSA Career and Recent Grades: F).
Former World Wide Wrestling Federation CEO Linda McMahon is the GOP competition for Chris Shays. She previously ran for Senate against Democratic Attorney General Richard Blumenthal in the Tea Party election year of 2010, spending nearly $50 million to Blumenthal’s mere $8.6 million. But after a point, an expensive staff and sending twelve mailings to voters almost becomes counter-productive—it annoys the voters rather than influencing them, especially because McMahon’s positions were GOP boilerplate. She lost 43%-55%.
One of the reasons McMahon lost: the city of New Haven had an extraordinary turnout in the election. The other large cities of Connecticut, Stamford, Bridgeport, New Haven and Hartford also give the Democrats resounding majorities. The smaller towns and suburbs give Republicans an edge, but not sufficient enough to overcome the big city advantage of the Democrats.
But Connecticut is not one of those “blue” states, like California, where the GOP’s failure can be blamed on demographic change. Whites cast 85% of the vote in Connecticut in 2010—but McMahon lost the white vote 47%-52%. (Of course, the GOP has recently failed to carry the white vote in California too, but that’s another story).
Connecticut’s suburban-oriented Republicans typically fail to capitalize on their positions in the smaller blue-collar factory towns: Stratford, West Haven, East Haven, Monroe, Orange, etc. They do not touch the immigration issue or other social issues that are motivations for blue-collar workers.
Typically, Republicans claim that the reduction of government spending will “create jobs.” But this pretty much falls on deaf ears for thousands of unemployed blue collar workers who have seen jobs move abroad and thousands of legal and immigrants occupy jobs in Connecticut. One can drive north up I-95 and seldom see a White or African-American working in any of the McDonalds restaurants along the interstate.
American workers know what is happening in regards to immigration. But Republican candidates refuse to recognize and capitalize on the issue.
If money matters (and the parasitical GOP campaign consultants got to vote) Linda McMahon would again be a shoo-in for the Senate nomination.
But her positions on jobs and the economy are still the usual vague Republican generalizations: “I will offer a comprehensive jobs plan that acknowledges that economic growth is not a government program. What this economy needs is more capital, less regulation, greater confidence, and local banks that have the freedom to lend.” Blah blah.
How this is going to affect the thousands of legal and illegal immigrants who have come to work in Connecticut, or the thousands of factory jobs that have fled to China, is not addressed.
McMahon’s positions are simply not strong enough to switch life-long Democrats to her side. Living in a multi-million dollar home in Greenwich, CT, she does not have the “350 pro-immigrant marchers [who] took to East Haven's Main Street Saturday to decry alleged police harassment of Latinos” marching in front of her house—she has no conception of the stress immigration is causing in working class Connecticut. [100s March Against Racial Profiling In East Haven, by Uma Ramiah, Feb 25, 2012]
Whatever her working class roots, McMahon has long since forgotten them in her generic campaign for personal glory, run by professional GOP campaign consultants, not reflecting any personal convictions.
Chris Shays is hardly a model of conservative Republicanism. He was always a maverick in the House, most notably (after considerable waffling, pandering and histrionic town hall meetings) voting against impeaching Bill Clinton. He also, strangely, supported the war in Iraq to the very end.
However, whatever Shays’ merits as a red-blooded conservative, he has been as good as it gets in the U.S. Senate on the issue of immigration.
At the Republican convention in May, Christopher Shays can count on many friendships and alliances from this past. Nevertheless, party activists do not like primary fights. The consensus may be that, as likeable as Chris Shays may be, Linda McMahon’s money makes her the more electable (and more profitable) candidate.
Chris Shays can counter that McMahon’s money did not prevail in the last election—and that he is more experienced, with a long record of success among Connecticut voters.
But whether Shays can win the convention—or more to the point obtain 15% of the delegates to force a primary—remains problematic.
If Chris Shays can get into a primary, his chances seem better. The voters there are the Republican base, not simply Republican committeemen. A strong position on immigration could force McMahon to address the issue in debates and attract grass-roots Republicans to vote for him. (Too bad, in my opinion, that he has been such a dogmatic free-trader, refusing to address the jobs loss issue.)
And if Chris Shays were to be the GOP candidate in the general election, his chances seems even better.
There is a notable lack of enthusiasm for Barack Obama among the Democrats. Younger voters don’t seem to like the “change” they have seen.
And a recent poll shows Shays a much stronger candidate than McMahon—running neck and neck with the likely Democratic nominees, whereas McMahon loses by double digits. [Poll shows Shays competitive in Senate race By Mark Pazniokas, The CT Mirror, March 22, 2012.]
Chris Shays’ social liberalism seems to work with Connecticut’s suburban voters. But patriotic immigration reform is not exclusively a conservative issue, and Shays’ strong record on immigration could help him with them and with blue collar workers too.
In fact, all the citizens of Connecticut tend to agree with Shays’ positions. NumbersUSA reports it has a solid 8,280 activists in the state—a good start for any campaign. And according to a recent poll of Connecticut residents:
The only question is, will Chris Shays (and, of course, his campaign consultants) recognize the opportunity?
Paul Streitz (email him) is a co-founder of the CT Citizens for Immigration Control. He is the author of America First: Why Americans Must End Free Trade, Stop Outsourcing and Close Our Open Borders. He was a Minuteman on the AZ border in 2005 and twice ran for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in CT.