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Open Senate Races to Watch in 2012

Cite as "AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 12091357 (posted Sep. 13, 2012)"

This year 10 Senate seats are open and up for grabs, meaning that the current Senator in each of these seats has chosen not to run again leaving the field open for two new candidates. We'll chronicle them here and when possible include immigration related statements from the candidates.

North Dakota
New Mexico

Hawaii has not hosted a competitive U.S. Senate race since 1970, but this year's race for Democratic Senator Daniel K. Akaka's open seat looks to be a close one. Although polls show Rep. Mazie Hirono (D) with a slight lead, she is facing a strong candidate in the popular former two-term Governor and moderate Republican Linda Lingle. If elected Rep. Hirono would be the first Asian-American woman in the Senate.

Rep. Mazie Hirono campaign site

Gov. Linda Lingle campaign site campaign site

Gov. Lingle video: "Common-sense immigration policy that helps economy"

In the race to fill the seat being vacated by Independent Senator Joe Lieberman, Rep. Christopher Murphy (D) and Linda McMahon (R) are locked in a battle much tighter than anyone anticipated. Current polls show Ms. McMahon with a small lead over her Democratic rival, but with two months to go anything is possible.

Rep. Christopher Murphy campaign site
From Rep. Murphy's campaign site: "About the DREAM Act, Chris said, 'Even though we knew that the United States Senate wouldn't pass it, we felt that it was important for the House of Representatives to show its support - and that's why I was proud to vote for it. That's why we need experienced legislators in the Senate who can fight for its passage.'"

Linda McMahon campaign site
In a Connecticut Senate Republican Primary debate Ms. McMahon stated: "Those who have come here illegally need to get to the back of the line," McMahon said. "They should not be given amnesty; however, I think we can expand our visa program to allow more temporary workers."

Last February Maine Republican Senator Olympia Snowe shocked many when she announced her retirement from the U.S. Senate after serving 17 years in the position. The current clear front-runner for the now open Senate seat is Independent Angus King (the former Governor). Gov. King is challenged in the race by two candidates: Secretary of State Charlie Summers, the Republican nominee, and state Sen. Cynthia Dill, the Democratic nominee.

Angus King campaign site
From his campaign site: "I believe that Maine's immigrant community is an important part of the future of the state. Maine is made of immigrants - from the Scotch-Irish, to the French Canadians, and now new immigrants from Africa and the Middle East. Comprehensive, just, and humane immigration reform must be undertaken - reform that recognizes our immigrant heritage and future, and that creates effective and enforceable immigration laws to promote business, jobs, and legal immigration. We shouldn't reward illegal activity, but we can't punish innocent people, like the children of illegal immigrants. As John McCain said in 2005: '[The 10 to 11 million undocumented immigrants] are working. . . . We have a national interest in identifying these individuals, incentivizing them to come forward out of the shadows, go through security background checks, pay back taxes… Anyone who thinks this goal can be achieved without providing an eventual path to a permanent legal status is not serious about solving this problem.'"

Cynthia Dill campaign site

Charlie Summers campaign site

In the race to fill Democratic Senator Herb Kohl's seat Wisconsinites have two familiar faces to choose from, former Governor Tommy Thompson (who ran in the Republican Presidential Primary in 2008) and Representative Tammy Baldwin (known for her outspoken liberalism). According to the most recent polls, Gov. Thompson has 50% of support among likely voters, compared to Rep. Baldwin's 44%.

Tommy Thompson campaign site
Gov. Thompson interviewed on immigration: "You're never going to deport 11 million people, but let's start being smart. Let's make sure we protect our boundaries. Let's continue building the fence that Obama stopped…"

Tammy Baldwin campaign site
From Rep. Baldwin's official congressional site: "Comprehensive immigration reform is needed to secure our borders and strengthen our economy. It is also important for Wisconsin's dairy farmers. I oppose complete "amnesty," but believe that there needs to be a path for the estimated 10 million undocumented workers currently in the U.S. to become documented through a legal process of applying for permanent residency or citizenship. I also support efforts to deter illegal immigration, deploy modern and effective border security measures, and ensure effective immigration enforcement in order to protect our national security and fortify our economy.

Our state has a long history of welcoming immigrants who have contributed to our economy and our culture. Today, immigrants continue to play an important role in our workforce. In Wisconsin, 40% of all hired dairy employees are immigrants. Farm families depend on these workers, whose hard work is essential to the survival of many farms."

The most recent poll coming out of the swing state still shows the race between former governors Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican George Allen in a dead heat to fill Democratic Senator Jim Webb's seat. Many are predicting that the burgeoning Latino voter bloc could be the deciding voice in this close race and both candidates are making their case to Virginia's Latino population.

Tim Kaine campaign site
From his campaign site: "America is a nation of immigrants. Our strength and international competitiveness has continually been augmented by the skills and talents of people coming to this nation from around the world. But for far too long, our immigration system has been broken, and for more than a decade, Congress has been unable to work in a bipartisan manner to find a way forward that reflects our American values and tradition.

I support comprehensive immigration reform. I value the hard work and talent that so many immigrants bring to our nation, helping to build some of our growing cities across the nation, helping to strengthen our agriculture industry in some of the most arduous labor conditions, and helping to out-innovate our foreign competitors in the fields of science, medicine and technology. I also believe that we must have a strong and secure border.

In order to move our nation forward on this issue, we must require the millions of undocumented persons in the United States to admit to a violation of immigration laws and pay an appropriate penalty. Only in the event of full acceptance of responsibility and payment of appropriate fines should we allow individuals to seek lawful adjustment of their immigration status. This is a path that seeks strict adherence to our laws, increases border security, and also seeks to strengthen our work force and international competitiveness. Our immigration system should be one that is realistic and humane, economically viable, protects American jobs, and allows the best and brightest from across the world to come here and pursue the American dream.

I support the DREAM Act so that students brought to the United States by their parents are not penalized, but instead given a meaningful opportunity to educate themselves and/or serve in our nation's military, thereby becoming productive members of this country."

Tim Kaine 30 second Spanish commercial addressing immigration

George Allen campaign site
Allen opposed an earlier version of the DREAM Act that included a path to citizenship, saying, "If the government rewards illegal behavior, we will encourage more illegal behavior." Allen also opposed the 2006 immigration reform bill backed by the Bush administration.

George Allen on immigration at the 2012 U.S. Senate Candidate Forum

Last May, in a shocking election Richard Lugar (R) was defeated in the Republican Primary to be the nominee for his U.S. Senate seat in November. Sen. Lugar is currently the longest-serving Republican in the Senate, but was defeated by more than 20 points by Richard Mourdock, the two-term Indiana state treasurer. That loss has helped propel this seat into one of the closest races in the nation with much attention from both national parties as Democratic Representative Joe Donnelly looks to turn this senate seat. Most recent polls have both candidates in a dead heat.

Richard Mourdouck campaign site
From his campaign site: "Secure our Borders: Richard opposes the DREAM Act and any other legislation that would provide amnesty for illegal immigrants. He believes that we must act immediately to secure our borders and enforce the law."

Joe Donnelly campaign site
From his official congressional site: "I strongly believe that a solution to our country's immigration crisis must begin with securing our borders. We are now at critical point in the immigration crisis, and I believe that we must make the necessary investments to keep our borders secure.

I have consistently supported proposals to increase the number of border patrol agents, as well as increased funding for the technology and equipment necessary for these agents to prevent people from entering our country illegally. Since coming to Congress in January 2007, I have worked to successfully increase Border Patrol funding by nearly double over 2006 levels.

However, border enforcement alone will not solve the problem. Each year thousands of undocumented workers enter the United States in search of employment opportunities. Although it is against the law to knowingly hire undocumented workers, the incentive of cheap labor combined with the lax enforcement of employment laws have encouraged many employers to hire illegal immigrants. As a result, we must improve the workplace enforcement of our employment laws. That is why I am a strong backer of E-Verify, an electronic employment eligibility verification program available to employers, which uses Social Security Administration and Department of Homeland Security databases to quickly, inexpensively, and accurately check whether employees are legally employable.

Although a solution will inevitably require bipartisan support, I will oppose any proposal that amounts to amnesty. The United States has a rich tradition built upon the hard work of immigrant citizens from all over the world, and we welcome legal immigration. Out of respect for our laws and those who have followed them, I will continue to work hard to ensure that American citizenship is reserved for those who play by the rules."

North Dakota
Kent Conrad's (D) retirement seemed to pave the way for an easy Republican pick up in North Dakota, but the most recent polling has put Democrat candidate Heidi Heitkamp and Republican candidate Rep. Rick Berg neck and neck. In North Dakota, 200,000 votes is likely enough to secure a victory, so this race may come down to just a few ballots.

Rep. Richard Berg campaign site
From his campaign site: "BERG WILL SECURE OUR BORDERS: Illegal immigration and the trouble with our borders is not a problem that occurred overnight. This is an issue we've neglected to address and is now a larger problem than what many candidates want to face. Rick Berg, however, tackles the subject of illegal immigrants head on.

Rick opposes amnesty. It's as simple and clear cut as that. Amnesty is not an option. Our Government needs to pass legislation and barriers that encourage immigrants to come to our Nation legally, through the proper channels.

He also believes that our Government needs to enforce existing laws; pass new legislation that will secure our borders long term; and protect our citizens from illegal immigrants, illegal drugs and terrorists. Rick also believes that businesses need the proper tools to verify American citizenship, so they are not employing illegal immigrants.

Only with the proper tools to make sure the employment candidate is in fact a legal citizen can businesses be better protected from hiring illegal immigrants. If the proper tools are in place, it would help in cutting down identity theft and the illegal use of identification (including social security numbers) by illegal immigrants."

Heidi Heitkamp campaign site

Arizona hasn't had an open Senate seat in nearly 20 years, but thanks to the retirement of Republican Senator John Kyl Arizona is about to elect (only) the 11th person to the U.S. Senate in their state's history. Current polls place this as one of the closest Senate races in the state's history and after a bruising Republican primary, Republican candidate Jeff Flake has emerged as the candidate against Democrat Richard Carmona who was not challenged in a primary.

Richard Carmona campaign site
From his campaign site: "Fixing a Broken Immigration System-I have a unique perspective of the complexities of this issue - I'm Hispanic and have worked along the border as a deputy sheriff and doctor for more than 25 years. I've witnessed first hand how our nation's immigration system is broken. I've seen the human cost of not having a workable solution. I've seen the results of the violence and drugs. And I know the terrible toll that has taken on our community.

First and foremost, we need to ensure our borders are safe and secure. We need to overhaul our immigration laws and support a comprehensive approach that is practical, tough and fair. That means securing the border, cracking down on drug and human smuggling, punishing companies who knowingly hire illegal immigrants, and eliminating a nefarious labor market that exploits those living in the shadows of our society. We should also pass the DREAM Act that creates a path to legalization for children, who, through no fault of their own, were brought into this country at a young age, have worked hard and are either going to college or have enlisted in the military.

For decades, politicians in Washington have talked about this problem, but nothing ever gets done and Arizonans continue to pay the price for their failure to act. Leadership on this issue takes courage, but it also requires politicians to stop using immigration as a wedge issue to score partisan political points. But as long as the federal government fails to act, Arizona should be reimbursed for the burden their failure has inflicted in our communities.

We can solve this problem in a way that is practical and fair. But it's going to take a more honest debate and the willingness to step up to get it done."

Jeff Flake campaign site
From his campaign site: "One of the primary functions of the federal government is to provide national security, which includes border security. With a southern border so porous, and increasingly dangerous, the federal government continues to fail in this most basic function.

In the past I have supported a broad approach to immigration reform - increased border security coupled with a temporary worker program. I no longer do. I've been down that road, and it is a dead end. The political realities in Washington are such that a comprehensive solution is not possible, or even desirable given the current leadership. Border security must be addressed before other reforms are tackled.

Most importantly, the situation along the border has changed significantly. In years past, groups of illegal aliens crossing the southern border tied to drug or smuggling cartels were the exception to the rule. Today, such ties are the rule. The lawless situation in northern Mexico largely driven by drug cartels is fueling lawlessness north of the border. Such a situation calls for an exclusive focus on border security.

Once we've secured the border we still face considerable immigration challenges, like the fact that nearly half of the illegal aliens residing in the United States didn't sneak across the border - they came legally and have overstayed their visas. But we have to focus on border security first."

Political will doesn't exist for major migrant reform, a September 13th, 2012 Op-Ed piece written by Mr. Flake in the Arizona Republic.

With Democratic Senator Bob Nelson retiring, the state of Nebraska, which tends to lean Republican (Romney should take the state's five electoral votes easily), is looking at two new, but familiar, candidates. The Republican candidate state senator Deb Fischer is a party newcomer who bested the national party's candidate in the Republican primary and the Democratic candidate Bob Kerrey is no stranger to the U.S. Senate having represented Nebraska for 12 years from 1988-2001.

Deb Fischer campaign site
From her campaign site: "Keeping our borders secure is a primary responsibility of the federal government-a responsibility they have failed to uphold.

In the Nebraska Legislature, I strongly opposed giving benefits and in-state tuition to illegal aliens, and co-sponsored a bill in 2010 to repeal the DREAM Act. I oppose amnesty, and as your U.S. Senator I will oppose all other attempts to provide incentives for those who violate our laws.

I've released a plan with specific proposals to stop illegal immigration and secure our borders. It includes increasing the number of border patrol and enforcement agents, implementing a mandatory E-Verify system for employers, allowing for the expedited removal of illegal aliens with a criminal record, and cutting funding for 'sanctuary cities.'"

Bob Kerrey campaign site From his campaign site: "I will work with Republicans and Democrats to find a long-term solution. I will prioritize measures that strengthen legal immigration and make it easier. And I will address the problem of illegal immigration in a civil but resolute manner. This includes the following:

  1. Citizenship should be offered to any immigrant serving in the Armed Forces
  2. Any immigrant seeking advanced college degrees should get work visas to stay in the U.S. after they graduate and their student visas expire.
  3. Redoubling efforts to secure borders
  4. Crack down on people who overstay their visas which is the most common form of illegal immigration since the Great Recession curbed the number of Mexicans crossing the border into the United States
  5. Speed up applications of permanent resident visas, or green cards, to spouses and children of green card holders living abroad. Currently, there is a cap, with a backlog of 2 ½ years to receive a visa.
  6. Update the system of temporary worker visas 'so that it meets our economic needs.' Updating the system has been held up by both parties in Congress amid failed efforts to achieve immigration reform."

New Mexico
The Senate race in New Mexico to fill Democrat Jeff Bingaman's Senate seat may be the one that the national Republican party is watching most closely. The two Representatives, Democrat Martin Heinrich and Republican Heather Wilson are locked in a tight battle that will largely depend on their ability to court the Latino population, which according to the 2010 Census stands at over 45% of the state' population. Recent polls show Wilson trailing Heinrich by four or five percentage points.

Martin Heinrich campaign site
From his campaign site: "DREAM Act students represent much of what's best about our nation: hard work, motivation, and a willingness to serve this country. The DREAM Act is good for our economy, our security, and our nation. And the DREAM Act is the type of fair, practical immigration policy that Americans are demanding. It's time to make the Dream a reality," said Heinrich during the conference call.

Heinrich is a co-sponsor of H.R. 1842, the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act of 2011 (DREAM Act) to repeal the restriction against granting talented, law-abiding students from earning educational benefits and pursuing their dreams here in America. Heinrich's Republican opponent Heather Wilson refused to co-sponsor the DREAM Act three times during her 10 years in Congress and opposed President Obama's recent administration policy to stop deporting young illegal immigrants who entered the U.S. as children.

Heather Wilson campaign site
Although Rep. Wilson does not mention immigration on her official campaign site, she did respond to the June 15th memo outlining the DACA initiative in a news interview: "Wilson, who said she does not think amnesty for illegal immigrants is fair, and who was one of eight Republicans to vote against barring illegal immigrants from getting driver's licenses, is sympathetic to the plight of "Dreamers."

"These are real lives at stake - children who were brought to this country through no decision of their own - and we owe it to them to find a long-term solution. Unfortunately, the decision today is temporary and leaves many questions unanswered," she said after Obama announced his executive order."

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