Apr 12, 2022 - Politics & Policy

GOP candidates double down on anti-immigrant rhetoric

Adam Laxalt speaks during a news conference hosted by the Trump Campaign outside the Clark County Election Department in Las Vegas.

Adam Laxalt. Photo: Joe Buglewicz/Bloomberg via Getty Images

GOP candidates from Nevada to Ohio are stepping up attacks on undocumented Latino immigrants despite warnings the strategy may backfire in some general election contests.

The big picture: The rhetoric aims to appeal to white voters aligned with former President Trump who are voting in GOP primaries. But some Republicans say it could alienate crucial Latino swing voters in November.

Details: Nevada Republican Senate hopeful Adam Laxalt has spent $13,000 running radio ads in Elko and Las Vegas touting his opposition to protections for immigrants who were brought to the country as children, commonly known as "Dreamers."

  • The radio ads tout Laxalt's tenure as the state's attorney general for suing the federal government and "stopping unconstitutional attempts to grant amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants."
  • Laxalt is seeking the nomination to run against Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D), the nation's first Latina senator.

In Ohio, GOP Senate candidate J.D. Vance asked voters in one TV ad, "Are you a racist? Do you hate Mexicans?"

  • "The media calls us racist for wanting to build Trump's wall. They censor us, but it doesn't change the truth."
  • The author of the book "Hillbilly Elegy" falsely claimed President Biden supported "open borders." He referenced his own mother’s heroin addiction by saying, "This issue is personal. I nearly lost my mother to the poison coming across this border."
  • The ad drew condemnation from critics who called it racist.

New Mexico GOP gubernatorial hopeful Rebecca Dow, locked in a tough fight in a primary to face Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, released a video of herself riding a horse along the U.S.-Mexico border while promising to fight "radical socialists."

  • "I'm not here to put on a show," she said while surrounded by men in cowboy hats. "I'm here to... finish President Trump's wall."
  • Democratic state Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez said on Twitter that the ad was full of "divisive, hateful rhetoric." Dow said she was "a registered descendant of Cherokees who came to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears."
  • New Mexico is the state with the largest percentage of Hispanic voters.

What they're saying: Voters in the Southwest in recent elections have rejected conservative candidates who have used harsh anti-immigrant language, GOP consultant Mike Madrid told Axios.

  • Nevada political consultant Alex O. Diaz tells Axios: "I don't know how this will play in Nevada, where the Latino population has grown and been more active in voting." Diaz said Republicans who have won in Nevada, including former Gov. Brian Sandoval, took a moderate approach to immigration.

The other side: "Nevada Latinos are abandoning the Democrats and moving toward Adam Laxalt in droves and the poll numbers show that," Jesus Marquez, Laxalt Campaign Advisor, said in a statement.

  • Marquez said Latinos want an end to open borders, drug trafficking and human trafficking.

Don't forget: Latinos were still nearly twice as likely to say they'd vote for a Democrat (30%) than a Republican (17%) in the 2020 Midterms, according to the latest Axios-Ipsos Latino Poll in partnership with Noticias Telemundo.

  • But the survey found that in terms of their top concerns, immigration ranked well behind inflation and crime.

Subscribe to Axios Latino and get more news that matters about Latinos and Latin America, delivered right to your inbox on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Go deeper