NEW YORK — While many candidates in competitive House races doubled down on harsh immigration rhetoric — five times as many immigration ads ran this cycle than ran just four years ago — the anti-immigrant strategy proved to be a losing bet in many of the districts that decided the House. Candidates who might have won in the past by courting their base with anti-immigrant rhetoric faced a new and increasingly diverse electorate that had experienced large demographic changes even in just the last two years.
Here are some of the key takeaways:
- The competitive districts that decided that House were far more diverse in 2018 than just two years earlier:
- All of the 27 districts that have flipped so far* that were not newly redistricted saw an increase in the Hispanic and Asian American share of their electorate between 2016 and 2018.
- More than 5,000 new Asian American or Hispanic voters joined the electorate over the past two years in half of the districts that flipped that had not been newly redistricted.
- Polling before the election found that Hispanic voters in particular were more engaged to vote in this election than in previous elections. Early exit polls had Hispanic voters at 12 percent of all voters, far exceeding their previous high in a midterm of 8 percent.
- In all but one of the flipped districts that were not newly redistricted, the foreign-born voting pool increased between 2016 and 2018.
- At the same time, the share of white voters in these districts declined in all but one district over the last two years, dropping by more than 5,000 voters in four of these districts (IL-6, NJ-7, NY-19, and NY-11).
- In these increasingly diverse districts, the most strident anti-immigrant politicians lost and anti-immigrant arguments fell flat:
- In Virginia, incumbent Dave Brat ran a slew of anti-immigrant ads about “pro-amnesty radicals” in his Republican-leaning district. That was Brat’s formula when he came out of nowhere to knock off the majority leader of his own party in a primary four years ago. But between 2010 and 2016, Henrico County, part of Brat’s re-drawn district, added more than 6,000 new immigrant residents, a nearly 20 percent increase in the size of the foreign-born population. This time, Brat lost by roughly 5,000 votes in a district Republicans had held for 47 years.
- A similar fate befell his Virginia colleagues Scott Taylor and Barbara Comstock, both of whom ran anti-immigrant ads in fast changing districts and lost. Rep. Comstock’s race in VA-10 includes Loudoun County, which added more foreign-born residents than any other major county in the United States between 2010 and 2016, including 13,000 foreign-born voters in the last two years alone. So when Republican incumbent Rep. Comstock ran immigration ads that focused on MS-13, she was speaking to a district that wasn’t receptive to an anti-immigrant message. Comstock lost to challenger Jennifer Wexton, who ran pro-immigrant ads – flipping a district that Republicans had held for nearly four decades.
- Pro-immigrant arguments won last night, even in very red districts:
- In Utah’s heavily Republican (R+13) fourth district, Salt Lake Mayor Ben McAdams decided to run a pro-immigrant campaign. The district had experienced some quick demographic change, with the number of Hispanic and Asian voters increasing by more than 1,800 since 2016. This race has yet to be called, but with 100 percent of precincts reported McAdams is ahead by more than 4,000 votes over Republican incumbent Rep. Mia Love.
- Republican incumbent Rep. Tom MacArthur in New Jersey’s third district ran a pro-immigrant race with ads about his work to keep a family together. That proved to be a smart strategy, particularly in a district that had added 2,000 additional Hispanic and Asian American voters and lost nearly 2,000 white voters since 2016. MacArthur maintains a comfortable lead of more than 2,000 voters over his Democratic opponent.
- Texas’ 23rd district has seen some of the starkest increases in Hispanic and Asian American voters since 2016, adding more than 18,000 of these voters and raising their share of the total electorate by 0.6 percent. At the same time, the share of white voters dropped by 0.7 percent. Republican incumbent Will Hurd actively reached out to these groups, highlighting his bipartisan legislation to protect Dreamers throughout the campaign. Hurd is currently ahead by 700 votes over Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones in a race that has yet to be called.
- Other races that flipped last night tell a similar story.
- IA-1: In this district, the share of white voters has declined by 0.7 percent since 2016 while the number of Hispanic and Asian American voters grew by 0.2 percent or 1,400 voters. Republican incumbent Rod Blum ran anti-immigrant ads marked by photos of Hispanic men with tattoos and claims of “criminal illegal aliens on our streets.” Outside groups supported him with ads about illegal aliens, sanctuary cities, and more crime. Blum lost his reelection to Democrat Abby Finkenauer.
- IA-3: In this Republican-leaning district, incumbent Republican Rep. David Young ran ads warning about sanctuary cities. Outside groups joined in with ads about open borders, crime, and drugs. But Young’s district had added more than 3,000 Hispanic and Asian American voters since 2016. Young lost.
- AZ-1: In Arizona, Republican Wendy Rogers ran ads calling her state “ground zero in the illegal alien invasion.” But since 2016, this Republican-leaning (R+2) district had added more than 16,000 Hispanic and Asian American voters. Rogers lost to Democrat Tom O’Halleran.
- IL-6: This district added more than 6,000 Hispanic and Asian American voters since 2016, making this historically Republican district (it is R+2 and it hasn’t had Democratic representation in 46 years) competitive for the first time in years. This cycle, Democratic challenger Sean Casten ran pro-immigration ads focused on Dreamers and was able to knock off incumbent Republican Pete Roskam.
- OK-5: This Republican-leaning (R+10) district added more than 6,000 Hispanic and Asian American voters and lost more than 2,050 white voters, all since 2016. Republican incumbent Steve Russell ran ads warning of migrant caravans to support his reelection. Russell lost to Democratic challenger Kendra Horn.
- PA-8: This newly redrawn, Republican-leaning, district includes Luzerne County, where the foreign-born population has increased by 62.6 percent between 2010 and 2016. Republican challenger John Chrin attacked incumbent Matt Cartwright with ads about a 5-year old girl “raped by an illegal given sanctuary,” and he lost by more than 20,000 votes.
- NJ-5: Since 2016 this Republican-leaning (R+3) district has added more than 6,000 Hispanic and Asian American voters and lost more than 2,000 white voters. Republican challenger John McCann attacked incumbent Democrat Josh Gottheimer with ads about illegal immigrant child predators, but fell more than 30,000 votes short.
- KS-3: Over the last two years, this district has added more than 5,000 Hispanic and Asian American voters and lost more than 7,500 white voters. This Republican-leaning district (R+4) was represented by incumbent Kevin Yoder, whose reelection campaign was backed by outside ads focusing on how undocumented immigrants put families at risk and attacking open borders and amnesty. By contrast, Democratic challenger Sharice Davids, ran ads opposing the Wall and was backed by outside ads in support of Dreamers and keeping families together. Yoder lost.
- AZ-2: This Republican-leaning district added than 9,000 additional Hispanic and Asian American voters over the last two years, while the white vote fell by more than 2,000 over that time. Republican Lea Marquez Peterson ran ads on sanctuary cities and claimed her opponent wanted to give free healthcare to illegal immigrants. She lost to Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick.
- SC-1: In this Republican (R+10) district, Republican Katie Arrington focused heavily on immigration, running ads about a MS-13 “caravan of illegal immigrants marching on our border.” The district added almost 3,000 Hispanic and Asian American voters since 2016 alone, and Arrington lost to Democrat Joe Cunningham in a district Republicans had held for 37 years.
- VA 2: This Republican-leaning (R+3) district added more than 3,000 additional Hispanic and Asian American voters since 2016, while the share of the white vote declined by 0.9 percent over those two years. Republican incumbent Scott Taylor was boosted by outside ads from the NRCC accusing his opponent Elaine Luria of being in favor of amnesty. Taylor lost.
- NY-22: This Republican (R+6) district has added more than 4,000 Hispanic and Asian American voters since 2016, and lost more than 5,000 white voters during that time. Incumbent Republican Claudia Tenney ran ads slamming her opponent Democrat Anthony Brindisi for voting for in state tuition for undocumented immigrants. Brindisi won.
*The 27 races that have been called so are: AZ-2, CO-6, IA-1, IA-3, IL-6, IL-14, FL-26, FL-27, KS-3, MI-8, MI-11, MN-2, MN-3, NJ-2, NJ-7, NJ-11, NY-11, NY-19 PA-6, PA-7, PA-17, SC-1, TX-7, TX-32, VA-2, VA-7, VA-10.