DENVER — In 2012, Todd Akin and Richard Murdouck were but two of 33 Republicans running for or seeking reelection in the U.S. Senate.
But the two of them, thanks to careless comments they made about rape, didn’t just lose their races in relatively red states; they allowed Democrats around the country to paint the two candidates as representative of the GOP as a whole, effectively turning their statements into touchstones in the year’s gender battles and helping propel President Barack Obama and a host of other Democrats to larger margins with women voters and, in many cases, to victory.
As a result of the Democrats’ 2012 successes, and the beating Republicans took not just with women but with Latino voters, comprehensive immigration reform moved to the top of the 2013 agenda for the White House and a do-nothing Congress.
Now, with immigration a major focus as Congress enters the August recess and next year’s races begin to take shape, Democrats are licking their chops as another GOP lawmaker emerges as a 2014 version of Akin and Murdouck — Iowa Congressman Steve King, the Tancredoesque immigration firebrand who Republicans are already distancing themselves from, lest they all be branded by his statements.
Well, most of them anyway.
Tom Tancredo himself, the former Colorado congressman and presidential candidate who is now among a handful of Republicans vying to challenge Gov. John Hickenlooper next year, actually came to King’s defense last week after his statement painting a majority of undocumented young people as cantaloupe-calved drug mules.
Trying to undercut support for providing a pathway to citizenship for so-called “DREAMers,” people who came to the United States illegally as children, King said: “For everyone who’s a valedictorian, there’s another hundred out there who weigh a hundred and thirty pounds—and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling seventy-five pounds of marijuana across the desert.”
Incidentally, a Washington Post fact-check of that statement resulted in “four Pinocchios” for King.
Tancredo, who was the original Steve King in Congress, an anti-illegal immigration zealot who almost single-handedly derailed President George W. Bush’s push for immigration reform in 2007, came to his protege’s defense, writing that King’s words were “too aggressive” but, nevertheless, “demonstrably true.”
Tancredo also chastised GOP leaders like House Speaker John Boehner for distancing themselves from the comments.
“It is disgusting to see Republican leaders joining this lynch mob,” Tancredo wrote for the website World Net Daily. “Such feigned outrage is designed to shut down debate, not elevate it.”
Tancredo’s reaction isn’t a surprise; it’s just the latest example of a political brand that’s helped him build a national mailing list — even if his new campaign website focuses on his early days as a teacher, The Tanc personifies the anti-immigration movement — and one that will make it exceedingly difficult, should he survive a primary, to win a statewide race for governor in Colorado, where Hispanics now account for one fifth of the population.
But King could become a big albatross for Republicans facing tough races in 2014, folks like, say, Congressman Mike Coffman of Aurora.
One of the most vulnerable incumbents in Washington, Coffman’s reelection battle against Democrat Andrew Romanoff is shaping up to be one of the closest and most expensive House races in the country.
Coffman, who succeeded Tancredo in Congress in 2008 and praised him two years later as a “hero”, has done a 180 on immigration, announcing earlier this month that he supports comprehensive immigration reform including a path to citizenship for DREAMers.
On Sunday, Coffman was cheered by a group of immigration supporters as he spoke to them in Aurora; and two groups are currently running television ads in his district lauding him for supporting comprehensive reform.
Romanoff, meanwhile, has been silent, leaving the spotlight to Coffman for now.
The reason: Steve King.
A month ago, King sponsored an amendment to end President Obama’s deferred action, which has halted deportations of DREAMers.
On June 6, when that amendment came to the floor for a vote, Coffman was among the 224 Republican House members who voted for it, helping pass — by just three votes — a measure effectively demanding the government force out DREAMers who came to the United States as children.
A Romanoff adviser told FOX31 Denver this week that the single vote on King’s amendment is all the ammunition Democrats will need to portray Coffman as a phony “who will say or do anything to keep his job.”
Hispanics now make up 20 percent of the population and 12 percent of all registered voters in Coffman’s 6th Congressional District, which was re-drawn last year.
Earlier this year, a GOP autopsy commissioned by RNC Chairman Reince Priebus listed “minority outreach” among the imperatives for a Republican renaissance — something King, with his controversial comments and base-driven policy proposals, is making almost impossible, says political analyst Eric Sondermann.
“Until the Republican Party can govern their own, they are not likely to govern the country,” Sondermann said.
“As part of the GOP’s efforts to build political infrastructure to compete with that of the Democrats, they might consider some kind of candidate training school to steer their standard-bearers away from needlessly inflammatory rhetoric. Todd Akin could have used a lesson in 2012. And Steve King should have been a pupil this cycle.”
If there’s any upside for Republicans, it might be that King’s canataloupe calf comment comes more than a year before the midterm elections. The worry is: how many more comments King has up his sleeve that’ll enable Democrats to paint other Republican candidates with one brush.
“These kinds of head-scratching, did-he-really-say-that comments are no longer just local news,” Sondermann said. “They instantly go national. And they serve as a Godsend to Democrats far and wide who use the ‘wow factor’ of those words to brand Republicans across the board.
“A year ago, Republican candidates for county sheriff in the California Central Valley to a state legislator from the Maryland Eastern Shore were forced to answer for Akin’s ‘legitimate rape’ absurdity. This time out, Republican candidates who couldn’t pick Steve King out of a police lineup will have to atone for his nonsense.”