GOP Gubernatorial Candidates In New Jersey And Virginia Are Focusing On Illegal Immigration

Oct 31, 2017
Originally published on October 31, 2017 10:12 pm
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Two states are electing new governors this year - New Jersey and Virginia. In both places, an ad war is playing out over illegal immigration. The Republican candidates in both of these states have released attack ads claiming the Democratic opponents would not enforce immigration laws and would endanger people living in those states. These two races are among the few statewide elections since President Trump won last fall. Joe Hernandez from member station WHYY reports.

JOE HERNANDEZ, BYLINE: For months, Republican candidate Kim Guadagno focused her campaign for governor of New Jersey on a promise to lower property taxes. She also reached out to the state's sizable Latino population, kicking off her campaign at a Mexican restaurant and picking a Cuban running mate. But just a few weeks before the election, down heavily in the polls to her Democratic opponent, Guadagno released a TV ad entitled "Sanctuary." It opens with an image of Jose Carranza in an orange prison jumpsuit.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD, "SANCTUARY")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Illegal alien and child rapist Jose Carranza shot four New Jersey students in the head.

HERNANDEZ: Carranza was part of a brutal crime in Newark in 2007 that left three young people dead and one sexually assaulted, stabbed and shot. Carranza was in the country illegally. In the ad, Guadagno draws a direct link between that crime and her Democratic opponent Phil Murphy, who suggested he would block state and local cops from helping federal immigration officials.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD, "SANCTUARY")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Murphy will have the backs of deranged murderers like Carranza, providing sanctuary in New Jersey.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PHIL MURPHY: We'll be a sanctuary not just city but state.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Murphy doesn't have our backs. He has theirs. Phil Murphy - too dangerous for New Jersey.

HERNANDEZ: Similar ads are airing in Virginia. There, Republican Ed Gillespie is slamming Democrat Ralph Northam for voting against a bill that would've banned sanctuary cities in Virginia, even though there aren't any. Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chair who once spoke of diversifying the GOP, moved to the right after a tough primary this spring. In this TV ad, the Gillespie campaign implies that Northam's vote against the bill was a boon to the violent street gang MS-13, which was started by immigrants from El Salvador.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Northam cast the deciding vote in favor of sanctuary cities that let illegal immigrants who commit crimes back on the street, increasing the threat of MS-13.

HERNANDEZ: Both Phil Murphy in New Jersey and Ralph Northam in Virginia say violent criminals should be prosecuted, regardless of their immigration status. But that hasn't stopped the Republican candidates in both states from going all in on the illegal immigration message. It's a page out of the political playbook of President Trump, who kicked off his presidential campaign attacking Mexican immigrants.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

STELLA ROUSE: His philosophy is the one that's being implemented. You can see that in these two races.

HERNANDEZ: Stella Rouse is the director of the Center for American Politics and Citizenship at the University of Maryland. She says Republican candidates have to follow their party's voters. And those voters are with Trump on immigration. That's despite studies showing that immigrants in the country illegally commit crimes at lower rates than native-born U.S. citizens. Rouse says politicians are hoping the message that worked for Trump on the national level will be effective on the state level, too.

ROUSE: It's a way to divide groups, to say, look, this group is a threat to our group. You know, it's a threat to our way of life. It's a threat to our values.

HERNANDEZ: Whether that message works will be up to voters next Tuesday. For NPR News, I'm Joe Hernandez. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.