Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Green Trying Desperately to Energize the Base

Mark Green's emphasis on immigration late in the gubernatorial race suggests he either has some internal polling data that points to it as an important state and local issue for Wisconsinites, or his campaign is getting desperate to finally find a topic to rally the base.

Considering most public surveys of Wisconsin residents -- such as this one -- don't rank immigration too high on the list of important state and local issues, it seems likely it's the latter reason that's driving the Green Team's emphasis on it recently.

To be sure, Green has struggled to grab the heart of the base throughout his campaign. Back in July, a Badger Poll found that, among Republican respondents, only 25 percent strongly supported Mark Green. Around 48 percent supported Green "not so strongly," 13 percent didn't know, and the remaining 13 percent supported Governor Doyle.

Much of this is because Green's main campaign tactic has been to define himself simply as the anti-Doyle. The big charge leveled against Doyle by Green and the GOP has been ethics, but so far none of these allegations have come close to developing into actual charges against the governor.

And in his recent spat with the State Elections Board -- and shortly the Federal Elections Commission -- Green has clouded his own ethics enough to likely convince most voters of what they probably already thought was true; that is, if you want to infuse ethics into the governor's mansion, don't elect a politician to the post (let alone a member of the current GOP Congress).

So with the issue of ethics neutralized for many swing voters, the Green Team is turning back to the issues in a last-ditch effort to drum up excitement amongst its base.

The Green campaign completely swung and missed on the issue of the state budget. And the other hot-button GOP issues in the state -- such as concealed carry, TABOR, and same-sex marriage -- have proven to be too risky for Green to hype on a broad scale in the purple state of Wisconsin.

Thus, Green comes to immigration. It's a relatively safe issue for a GOPer to beat the drum over because, if challenged, one can always fall back on the "Well, it's illegal, isn't it?" line.

But the problem for Green when trying to strike a spark with undocumented immigration -- like Paul Bucher before him -- is twofold.

One, undocumented immigration isn't a big issue for most people in Wisconsin. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, Wisconsin ranks 21st in the country in the number of undocumented immigrants living inside its borders. Not exactly cause for alarm.

Plus, a Badger Poll taken over the summer shows support for undocumented immigrants in Wisconsin, even among Republican respondents.

The second problem is that most people think of undocumented immigration as a federal issue -- which it is primarily -- and not a state or local issue, at least for Wisconsin. That's why Green's proposals on the topic come off as half-hearted and relatively minor.

For instance:
  • Green wants all Wisconsin Works participants to show proof of citizenship before accessing benefits of the program. But considering it's already illegal for undocumented immigrants to actually participate in the program, unless Green can show that there's widespread abuse of the system, the proposal is a non-starter that amounts to adding another layer of bureaucracy to the already bogged-down Wisconsin Works program.
  • Green wants to force state Department of Corrections (DOC) and jail officials to check the immigration status of everyone (unless he plans to profile) charged with a felony or drunk driving in the state. But, as it happens, the DOC already verifies the legal status of all inmates and reports undocumented immigrants to federal authorities.
  • Green wants to work to eliminate local ordinances that prevent public employees from investigating immigration status, which were designed to develop trust between immigrants and local authorities. This proposal is particularly dangerous politically because it amounts to the state usurping local control, which is a major reason the various versions of TABOR were shot down in the Republican legislature over the past few years.
So it's clear the Green campaign is desperately looking for something to get its base to the polls in a year when Republican voter enthusiasm is at a low point across the country.

But, in the end, the issue of immigration will go the way of HSAs and school vouchers for GOP voters -- noteworthy, but not overly exciting.

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