Immigration Stands as Key 2006 Electoral Issue

Voters in nine states and the District of Columbia went to the polls Tuesday for primary elections. Races in Arizona, Maryland and New York all earned national attention. The issue that links many races is immigration.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And let's bring NPR's Juan Williams into the conversation. Juan, good morning.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So we've heard that national Republicans were relieved by the results in Rhode Island. What will they be thinking about the results in Arizona, where there was an open seat? This is in the House of Representatives. A Republican is retiring and they were choosing a Republican to replace him.

WILLIAMS: Well, obviously, immigration becomes the big issue. I think immigration has really dominated a lot of the conversations inside the party because it has become an issue that apparently energizes the base, Steve. And in this case you had a state senator, Jim Huffman(ph), being supported by the national Republican Party versus, you know, Randy Graf. And, you know, I find Graf being a very hard-line anti-immigration candidate.

INSKEEP: And he won the primary, which is something that's uncomfortable for the national party.

WILLIAMS: Well, I think it just emphasizes the split in the party over the immigration issue, an issue that, as you know, Steve, the Congress has, for the moment, put on the back shelf because they don't want to get into something that's going to reveal the differences between, let's say, you know, a congressman who says he's strongly anti-immigration and the president who's looking for a comprehensive plan that doesn't emphasize building a wall.

INSKEEP: Democrats were split in the primary in Maryland, where there was an open Senate seat - there is an open Senate seat - and two Democrats were running for the nomination to fill it.

WILLIAMS: Correct. U.S. Senator Paul Sarbanes is retiring in Maryland and you had a really interesting race there between Ben Cardin, the congressman, and former congressman, Kweisi Mfume. Also, Mfume, the former head of the NAACP. Ben Cardin is the victor, and so now the question is whether or not the party can come together as they face a potentially interesting race versus Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele, an African-American.

Many analysts looking at that race said that the black vote primarily went to Mfume, and I think Cardin did all right in the African-American community. But the question is will African-Americans stick with the Democratic Party or will there be an appeal coming from a Republican, but an African-American in the Lt. Gov. Steele?

INSKEEP: So in Maryland you have a white Democrat against a black Republican. In New York you have Hillary Clinton winning re-nomination for a second term in the United States Senate.

WILLIAMS: Pretty easily. A handy victory, 83 to 17 over Jonathan Tasini, who was a strong anti-war candidate pointing out that she had voted to give the president the right to go to war. But it didn't apparently amount to much, and so we see Hillary Clinton steaming back into her Senate seat pretty easily. And the question now is how does she posture herself as she potentially looks at a 2008 presidential run.

INSKEEP: Juan, thanks very much.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams giving us some analysis on this morning when we're learning the primary results around the country. And, again, one of the big results was that Lincoln Chafee won re-nomination for another Senate term from Rhode Island.

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