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ABC-6 Reporter Mark Curtis: "The Sunday Political Brunch" June 23, 2013

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by ABC6 Chief Political Reporter Mark Curtis

mcurtis@abc6.com

(Providence, Rhode Island) – Wow!!! A lot is going on this week. Look for a key vote on immigration reform in the U.S. Senate on Monday; perhaps some important rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court (gay marriage, affirmative action, etc.); and a U.S. Senate special election in Massachusetts on Tuesday. Here we go:

"Not So Special!" – I can honestly say this is the most lackluster contested U.S. Senate race I have ever covered. Voter turnout might even set a record low for a special election in Massachusetts pitting Democratic Rep. Ed Markey against Republican ex-Navy Seal Gabriel Gomez. First it was the Boston Marathon bombings, and now it is the murder investigation involving New England Patriot's tight end Aaron Hernandez that is gobbling up the news coverage. Still, the national Republican Party has done little to make this race winnable for the GOP. Markey is pummeling Gomez with TV ads, although Gomez had a very memorable, funny ad. Gomez could have won this seat, but poor campaign support may doom his chances. More on that in a moment. 

"Gay Marriage" – I honestly don't have a good handle on how the Supreme Court will rule in two cases, or whether it will have a far reaching impact. My prediction is a narrow ruling, that may open the door for each state to make its own decision (28 currently ban it; 12 legalized it; and, the rest having varying rules. At one time I though the Court might uphold same-sex marriage everywhere, under the equal protection clause of the Constitution, but that decision may be years away. As a political wedge issue, though, it's dead. A large majority of young people – across all political parties – either support it, or are indifferent to it. 

"Run for the Border" – For the first time since 1986, Congress may be poised to pass an immigration reform bill into law. It now appears there are enough votes in the U.S. to approve it, and to block a filibuster if opponents try that tactic. The big sticking point was increasing the funding and staffing for border enforcement by enough to convince hesitant Republicans to support the bill. That has now worked in the Senate, but it remains to be seen if it will sway enough GOP votes in the more conservative House of Representatives.

"Immigration as an Issue" – So why has nothing been passed since the last major immigration reform law back in 1986? Well, each side has tried to play the issue to their own advantage. Democrats have assumed that, in particular, Hispanic immigrants would vote for Democrats. To some extent that has been true, but Republicans have done well with Latin voters in a number of key states (Florida, Arizona and Texas), so the impact has been muted in some elections. On the other hand, Republican business interests have liked the supply of cheap, underground labor that illegal immigration has brought through the years, so it never pushed its legislative advantage in Congress since 1994, to combat the problem. Both parties kind of "looked the other way" as millions breached the border.

"Fast Forward to 2013" – So why is this moving now? First, high U.S. unemployment over the last five years has made an underpaid, underground labor force less attractive. Many in both parties would rather see legal U.S. workers getting many of the jobs now being done by a glut of illegals (and by making undocumented immigrants legal, they capture a broader range of taxes). The GOP in particular is worried about the widening Hispanic voting gap. In 2004 George W. Bush won reelection with 44 percent of Hispanic voters, compared to 53 percent for John Kerry. That's competitive. But in 2008, Barack Obama won 67 percent of the Hispanic vote compared to 31 percent for John McCain. By 2012, Obama took 71 of Hispanics, to 24 percent for Mitt Romney. The GOP needs to win back a big chunk of those voters if it wants to win the White House in 2016. That's why Cuban-American Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) is leading the charge. He gets the math!

"Massachusetts Senate, Part II" – All this brings me back to the Massachusetts Senate race. The GOP has a Hispanic candidate named Gomez. He's moderate enough in a very liberal state to have appeal to independents (i.e. pro-life, but believes Roe v. Wade is settled law; pro-marriage equality, pro-immigration reform). Plus he's a Navy Seal, and a self-made business success. Massachusetts might have been a "Petri dish" for the national GOP to roll out its new Hispanic outreach strategy and perhaps win an election. But the myopic insulation of Washington, DC that deafens the ears of both parties is likely to blame. People in DC – and I don't just mean the politicians and the press – need to get outside the Beltway from time to time. Campaign consultants and strategists may have missed a golden opportunity by assuming a Republican can't win in the Bay State, though many have.

I'll have much more analysis on the results of these three topics next Sunday!

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