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Mike Garcia

Democrats prepare for border battle in California

Democrats are done trying to ignore Republican political attacks on border security.

Months after Rep. Tom Suozzi’s (D-N.Y.) special election victory, California Democrats in tough races are all in on Suozzi’s playbook that laid the blame on Republicans for chaos at the border. Republicans aren’t the least bit concerned.

Candidates from both parties in key Southern California races know that the migrant crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border is top of mind for voters this fall. While Democrats feel they have the upper hand thanks to the GOP rejection of the Senate’s bipartisan border deal, Republicans are confident that the issue will only end up energizing their voters.

For Democrats, this year is different. Illegal border crossings have spiked under President Joe Biden’s administration. Big cities have been overwhelmed by migrants bussed from GOP border states like Texas.

In turn, Democrats have tried to shift their posture. This week, Biden signed an executive order severely limiting asylum claims, which brought complaints and legal action from pro-immigration groups. Frontline Democrats are urging Biden to do more to limit undocumented migrant crossings. And in the Senate, Democrats made major concessions earlier this year when agreeing to a bipartisan deal that even the Border Patrol union endorsed.

But Senate Republicans killed that proposed deal. Former President Donald Trump told senators he wanted the border to be a political issue in 2024. So here we are.

Our swing through toss-up House seats outside Los Angeles recently brought us to districts with vibrant immigrant communities. Republicans believe their strict border security enforcement will play well even among immigrant families.

“We have 35% Hispanic population, and we go up to any one of the Hispanics and go ‘Hey, are you okay with securing the border?” And they say they say yes, because they came here legally,” Rep. Mike Garcia (R-Calif.) asserted. “The Hispanics are pissed, because they feel like all 7 million of these people that came across are just cutting in line.”

The legislative impact: Any border talk on the trail quickly gets back to legislative friction in Washington. Think of the debate as a “choose your own adventure” between H.R. 2 — the hardline House GOP bill — and the Senate package.

Democrat Will Rollins, who’s trying to knock off Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) in November, is a leading proponent of leaning in on immigration.

“Republicans think as long as the public sees the border as broken, then they’ll blame Biden,” Rollins said. “The only way that we break through that BS is by going into unfriendly networks and telling voters where we stand on the issue.”

Garcia’s opponent George Whitesides is striking a similar tone.

“We talk about how Republicans walked away from a pragmatic thing,” Whitesides said. “It’s like Suozzi. We’re for fixing the border.”

Rollins argued that the bipartisan Senate deal gave Republicans most of what they wanted in H.R. 2. GOP incumbents laugh this off.

“I think it’s going to be difficult, if not impossible, for Democrats to go on the offense,” Calvert told us. “If the president was serious about the border, he would sign off on ‘Remain in Mexico’ immediately.”

House Republicans also reject Democratic hopes that the bipartisan deal will play in their districts.

“What the Senate is trying to do right now, it’s no different than what we already passed,” Rep. Young Kim (R-Calif.) said. “So they’re playing the political game. They just need to take [H.R. 2] up and get it done.”

— Max Cohen

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Editorial photos provided by Getty Images. Political ads courtesy of AdImpact.