DENVER — The 2014 electoral map makes it unlikely Republicans will pay an immediate political price for the recent death of an immigration overhaul bill, except in one key, perennial swing state: Colorado.
The state is home to a marquee Senate contest, a sharply competitive House race and one of the largest Hispanic populations in the nation, a group that comprises 14 percent of the state's voters.
The GOP-controlled House of Representatives declined to take any action on immigration despite a shift in fast-growing, immigrant-heavy voting blocs away from Republicans and a bipartisan Senate bill that would step up border security and provide a route to citizenship for many of the 11 million people here illegally.
The inactivity angered immigration rights supporters, but outside of Colorado the GOP faces little threat from potential backlash over the issue in the November elections.
Most Republican representatives are in districts with very small minority populations, and they had more to worry about from potential primary challengers coming from their right to oppose any action on the failed immigration proposal. Most Senate races this year are in states with small Hispanic populations, as well.
Analysts expect the GOP to pay a price in 2016, when Republicans will need to capture states such as Nevada, Colorado and Florida to win the White House, but that's a lifetime away, politically.
Democrats and immigrant rights groups today are targeting Colorado as the one place where they can make Republicans suffer for their inaction on immigration. "The national focus of the immigration reform community is on Colorado," said Patty Kupfer, managing director of the immigrant rights group America's Voice. "This is where we're throwing down."
They'll focus their efforts on the Senate battle between Republican U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner and Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Udall and the congressional race, one of the most competitive in the nation, pitting Republican incumbent Rep. Mike Coffman against former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, a Democrat.
On Friday, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, a prominent Democratic congressman from Illinois who is active on immigration issues, appeared at a press conference in Denver with Colorado's two Democratic senators to mark the one-year anniversary of the failed Senate bill. He castigated House Republicans for their inaction and did not spare Udall's challenger, Gardner.
"It's not enough for you to simply say the right thing," Gutierrez said of Gardner. "You have to do the right thing."
He was referencing Gardner's statements in support of the idea of an immigration overhaul, including granting citizenship for people brought here illegally as children who serve in the military. Immigrant rights advocates note that Gardner has stopped short of supporting the Senate bill or other methods of extending citizenship and voted for legislation to repeal President Barack Obama's executive action that allows people brought here illegally as children to work legally in the U.S.
Immigrant rights groups and the Udall campaign have hammered Gardner almost daily. On Thursday, activists held a sit-in in Gardner's district office for several hours.
Gardner spokesman Alex Siciliano noted that Gardner has testified about the importance of an immigration overhaul while sitting next to Gutierrez at the House Judicial Committee. "Nearly a year ago Cory testified alongside Congressman Gutierrez as he urged his colleagues — Republican and Democrat — to fix our broken immigration system. Sen. Udall and his allies should be ashamed that they are distorting a record that they once embraced."
Coffman has made a dramatic reversal on immigration since his district was redrawn in 2010. Before, he backed a proposal requiring all ballots be printed only in English and praised former congressman and immigration firebrand Tom Tancredo. Now, his new district is 20 percent Hispanic and he is studying Spanish and backing citizenship for some people brought here illegally as children. But critics note he, like Gardner, voted to repeal Obama's executive action and he doesn't back the Senate bill.
On Friday, Romanoff led a group of immigrant youths who would be eligible for Obama's special immigration dispensation, a group known as dreamers, on a march to Coffman's district office to protest the congressman's unwillingness to support the Senate bill.
"If I were a member of Congress," Romanoff said in an email to The Associated Press, "I would sign a discharge petition and bring a vote on immigration reform to the House floor — instead of voting, as Congressman Coffman has repeatedly done, to start the deportation of dreamers."
Coffman's office dismissed the protest. "Fixing our broken immigration system will take hard work, not political stunts," Coffman spokesman Tyler Sandberg said, noting that Gutierrez has praised Coffman as a Republican whom he could work with on the issue.