DENVER (AP) — Republicans in search of a way to oppose President Barack Obama’s moves on immigration without alienating the nation’s fast-growing population of Hispanic voters may find a playbook in Colorado.
GOP Rep. Cory Gardner won election to the Senate in the midterms in a state where 14 percent of voters are Hispanic. His GOP colleague, Rep. Mike Coffman, won re-election in a district where 14 percent of residents were born in foreign countries.
Both opposed last year’s failed bipartisan effort in the Senate to overhaul the nation’s immigration system. But both also spoke warmly of the contributions made by immigrants and shifted to the center on other immigration issues. Coffman even learned Spanish.
Coffman went on to win his race by 9 points. Gardner tied Democratic Sen. Mark Udall in two heavily Hispanic counties that normally vote overwhelmingly Democratic on his way to a narrow victory. Democrats acknowledge the two Republicans benefited from a change in how they talk about immigration, departing from a bombastic approach that emphasizes border security and deportations.
Colorado’s Hispanic voters had helped Democrats win every race for Senate, governor and president since 2004. Earlier this year, some Colorado Republicans feared they were in for a repeat when Ken Buck, who as a county district attorney took aggressive action against immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, started the race for the GOP Senate nomination as the favorite.
But Gardner cleared the field when he entered the Senate race, and took steps toward the center. After initially voting to repeal Obama’s executive order allowing children brought to the country illegally to work in the U.S., he voted in August to uphold it. He also said he supports citizenship for such immigrants who served in the military and the easing of other rules.