Democrats and immigrant-rights advocates on Wednesday mounted a forceful effort to save immigration, arguing that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's stunning loss in a GOP primary on Tuesday shouldn't be seen as a statement on the congressman's support for legalizing illegal immigrants.
While Mr. Cantor's opponent, David Brat, a college professor, ran heavily on the immigration issue en route to a 56-44 victory, arguing Mr. Cantor was too soft on enforcement, Democrats said they saw the race the other way.
"Eric Cantor did not lose his primary yesterday because of immigration. He lost it because he had lost touch with the people in his district," Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said on the Senate floor.
He rather than run away from legalization of illegal immigrants, Republicans should embrace it, which Democrats said would help Republicans pivot from tea party supporters and instead go after Hispanic voters and others outside of the traditional GOP base.
"They can choose to address the immigration issue head-on and get it resolved — and give the Republican nominee in 2016 a fighting chance in his or her run for the White House — or they go back to the bunker, sharpen their anti-Obama knives and never get to the White House in the next generation, possibly two," said Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, Illinois Democrat.
As they saw chances for passage of a final immigration bill slipping away this year, Democrats struck an increasingly desperate note, pleading with House GOP leaders not to move away from the issue just because of Mr. Cantor's loss.
Mr. Schumer pointed to a separate primary win Tuesday night by Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who had been a chief author of the Senate immigration bill that legalized most illegal immigrants.
Mr. Graham did not back down from his support for that bill and easily won his primary, seeing off a handful of challengers.
Mr. Cantor, meanwhile, held a more complex position on immigration. He told voters he led the opposition to the Senate bill, but stood by his support for legalizing young illegal immigrants, known as Dreamers. He also had embraced the House GOP leadership's immigration principles, which were viewed by many as offering some sort of legal status to most illegal immigrants — though it fell short of full citizenship.
A Democratic polling firm, Public Policy Polling, surveyed voters in Mr. Cantor's Virginia district on Tuesday and found most of them supported granting a path to citizenship to illegal immigrants if it was combined with stiff new enforcement and requirements that the immigrants learn English, crack down on employers, and meet a "long list of requirements" over a decade.
Republicans, though, seemed to reject Democrats' advice on how to see the race — and none more so than Mr. Brat.
"Amnesty at the end was a clear differentiator between myself and Eric Cantor," he told MSNBC on Wednesday.
© Copyright 2015 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.