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Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013 03:28 pm

Davis could face Latino heat

Immigration votes could swing U.S. House to Democrats

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Republican Rodney Davis of Taylorville
The national debate on immigration reform could determine the results of the 2014 U.S. House elections, according to two national Latino groups. One of Springfield’s representatives in Washington, D.C., could be among the lawmakers affected.
A poll and election analysis released jointly last week by polling firm Latino Decisions and advocacy group America’s Voice shows 24 Republican-held House seats could be vulnerable to upsets in 2014 because of growing focus on immigration reform by Latino voters.

U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis of Taylorville, who represents Illinois’ 13th District covering most of Springfield, is among the 24 Republicans whose seats could be vulnerable, the analysis concludes.

“I think the message for Republicans is very clear: half-hearted measures are not going to solve the electoral problem that they face,” said Gary Segura, professor of American Politics and Chair of Chicano/a Studies at Stanford University and principal at Latino Decisions.

The poll of 800 Latino voters conducted between July 13 and July 20 shows respondents are paying close attention to the immigration reform debate. The Democrat-controlled Senate passed an immigration bill earlier this month, but the Republican-controlled House is likely to disregard the Senate bill and instead pass a series of smaller bills.

While Latinos of voting age comprise only 2.6 percent of Illinois’ 13th District, Davis had an extremely thin margin of victory over Democratic opponent David Gill in the 2012 election. Davis won with 46.6 percent of the vote to Gill’s 46.2 percent. The outcome might have been different, too, if left-leaning independent John Hartman of Edwardsville hadn’t run and received 7.2 percent of the total vote.

If the House doesn’t act, or if Davis votes against measures popular among Latino voters, Davis could become a target for an election upset. The estimated 20,100 Latino voters in the 13th District could easily overcome the 1,002-vote spread that separated Davis and Gill in 2012.

Davis already faces four challengers for his seat, including two from within his own party. On the Republican side are attorney Erika Harold of Urbana and Jose “Joe” Manuel Ruiz of Crest Hill, which is in Will County. Former Madison County circuit judge Ann Callis of Edwardsville is running for the seat as a Democrat, along with George Gollin, a professor of physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

While non-citizen immigrants can’t vote, the poll found that 65 percent of Latino voters have friends or family who entered the country illegally, and 65 percent of respondents said they would think less favorably of Republicans who fail to pass a bill containing a pathway to citizenship for immigrants who are currently in the country illegally. The Senate bill contains such a pathway, provided applicants pay back taxes, pass background checks and meet other requirements.

While Republicans seemingly have plenty to lose by voting against certain favored reform proposals, the poll suggests Republican candidates have an opportunity to find favor with Latino voters. Sixty-two percent of respondents said they have voted for a Republican in the past, and 50 percent said they would be more likely to vote for a Republican who votes for immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship.

House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio’s Eighth District, has indicated no immigration bill will be called for a vote unless it has the support of a majority of Republicans and a majority of Democrats.

That’s ostensibly an extension of an informal tradition known as the “Hastert Rule,” which holds that Republican speakers of the House usually won’t call a bill for a vote if it doesn’t have the support of a majority of Republican members. The practice, named after former speaker Dennis Hastert, guarantees that Democrats, who are currently the minority in the House, can’t pass a bill with only a few stray Republican votes.

Gary Segura, the Stanford professor and political pollster, points out that if 17 of the 24 Republican-held House seats swing to Democrats in the 2014 election, the chamber would switch to a Democratic majority.

“Failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform will be a political disaster for the GOP,” he said.

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.

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