Prune Juice or Fear?

Jim VandeHei and John F. Harris on the Ohio 5th Congressional District special election this week, in Politico:

No other issue more than immigration has ricocheted with more unpredictable impact across more races at more levels.

If there was any doubt about the fearsome power of an anti-immigration message in American politics this election cycle, Republican Bob Latta drove a stake through it on Tuesday.

It’s hard to imagine a more miserable political climate for Republicans — hurting nationally because of the unpopularity of President Bush and the Iraq war, and even more in Ohio because of the economy and local factors that have knocked the GOP off its game over the past two years.

But Latta, running in a special election for a suburban Toledo-based House district, crafted a message — echoed by party officials — that bashed illegal immigrants who live here, drive here or get government-funded health care.

He won by 14 points. Democrats and Republicans alike credit the immigration message for the big margin…

Either one of two things are going on here.

1. VandeHei and Harris are pumping prune juice. I understand that 14% was roughly the same spread as 2006. The GOP spent $500,000 — twice the amount the Democrats spent, to tread water in a solidly red district. So saying the immigration issue caused the 14 point spread strikes me as fanciful. There’s an old story about some fellow walking down the street in Manhattan and occasionally pausing to clap his hands and yell “Ungawa!” at the top of his lungs. A pedestrian walks up to him and asks: “Why are you doing that?” He replies, “To keep the tigers scared away.” The pedestrian says, “But there are no tigers in Manhattan.” And the reply, “See! it works!”

2. Vandehei and Harris are on to something and fear really is selling. It could be that the GOP feels cornered, and we know that desperation can translate into dangerousness. The ongoing buzz is that the GOP is in a bad way. Is the last arrow in their quiver incitement?

Does fear still sell? I don’t mean in a red district such as Ohio-05.  Are the American people still susceptible to being whupped up by the “threat of communists welfare cheats gays Muslims immigrants?” I don’t think so — especially since the issue didn’t budge the vote in Ohio-05 over 2006.

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