Immigration reform may not be dead, but it certainly took an unexpected hit Tuesday night, when House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his primary fight with an anti-immigration Tea Party economics professor.
“As a practical matter, this doesn’t mean anything. The real story is about Cantor and his political polling,” said Julie Samuels, executive director of Engine Advocacy, a lobbying group representing startups. The Cantor campaign’s internal polling allegedly suggested he had a 34-point lead going into the primary race Tuesday.
“I worry, however, that the story becomes about immigration,” she said.
If immigration reform is shelved this year, it will give many tech lobbyists very few legislative victories to show bosses back on the West Coast. Legislation to curb lawsuits by patent rolls also recently hit a wall in the Senate, despite heavy lobbying by tech companies.
Cantor was hardly the poster child for the immigration reform movement, although he supported a pathway to citizenship for undocumented kids. Immigration supporters worry his loss to Tea Party candidate David Brat, who campaigned on Cantor’s support of immigration reform, could be enough to scare off skittish House Republicans.
Democrats brushed aside those arguments Wednesday (although few were sorry to see Cantor lose) in an effort to keep the immigration reform debate alive.
Cantor “campaigned very aggressively against commonsense, bipartisan immigration reform, but yet in the analysis there are some who suggest that his election was a key to getting immigration reform done,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Wednesday. “I am not quite sure how people have reached that conclusion,” he added.
Cantor’s loss was especially bad timing for FWD.us, the Mark Zuckerberg-backed immigration lobbying group that hosted a briefing for reporters Wednesday to release new data from Republican pollsters suggesting voters support immigration reform.
“Yesterday I woke up in the morning and two things were true: our immigration system was a complete failure and the Republican party was having trouble attracting Hispanics and making it hard to win national elections,” said Rob Jesmer, a Fwd.us consultant and former executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “Those two things still exist.”
The group has spent millions so far on television ads in Republican districts, hiring veteran political operatives in Washington and spending more than $600,000 on lobbying lawmakers last year.
Until Cantor’s loss Tuesday night, immigration supporters were gearing up to press Republicans to move legislation to the House floor before the July 4 recess. FWD.us launched a $250,000 cable television ad buy on Tuesday that will still run through next week.
Like other immigration groups, FWD.us spit out a steady stream of Tweets Wednesday to bolster the idea that Cantor lost because he was inept/out of touch/(fill in the blank) and not because of immigration.
One pointed to how two-term South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham knocked off six primary challengers Tuesday night after winning 57 percent of the vote Tuesday, despite supporting immigration reform. Another linked to a BuzzFeed story about how Tea Party favorite Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul still supported an immigration bill.
Republicans need to keep the big picture in mind, Jesmer said, echoing long-held concerns of party leaders that Republicans won’t be able to stay competitive if Hispanics continue to see them as hostile and vote Democratic.
“The only thing worse than Eric Cantor losing a primary is Hilary Clinton winning the presidential race,” Jesmer said.