Democrats Target a GOP Moderate on Immigration

PHOTO: Incumbent Congressman Mike Coffman gives his victory speech in a ballroom at the DoubleTree Hotel.

Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via Getty Images

When I heard that Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman (R) would have cantaloupes delivered to his office today, I was confused … and not because of the fruit.

Giving cantaloupes to members of Congress has become a commonplace tactic for immigrant advocates since immigration hardliner Steve King uttered his now-infamous line about the size of young migrants calves. What puzzled me was why Coffman was a target.

In the House, there are only a handful of vocal Republican supporters of a pathway to citizenship. Coffman is one of them. He penned an op-ed in the Denver Post last month that endorsed a pathway for many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants, albeit long and with several qualifications.

Coffman is also a Republican who abandoned his past hardline positions on immigration to adopt a more friendly stance toward immigrants. The bottom line? There are many more ripe targets for a cantaloupe delivery than Mike Coffman.

But the reason why Coffman has come around on immigration reform is the same reason he's a target.

Colorado Democrats, not non-partisan immigration-reform advocates, are organizing the melon delivery. They cite the fact that Coffman voted for an amendment, sponsored by King, that would defund President Obama's deportation relief program for young undocumented immigrants.

But their effort to paint Coffman as unfriendly to immigrants goes beyond moving policy, it's designed to pay political dividends.

After the 2010 Census, the lines of Coffman's district (Colorado's 6th) were redrawn to include. thousands of new Latino voters. The percentage of Latino voters in Coffman's new district is close to 20 percent, compared to around 9 percent in his old one.

That sparked the congressman's conversion on immigration. But it also made his district unsafe for a Republican. President Obama defeated GOP nominee Mitt Romney 52-47 percent in Coffman's district, and the congressman narrowly won reelection in 2012.

Democrats know that the GOP will shoulder the blame if immigration reform fails. A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that 44 percent of people will blame Republicans in Congress if immigration reform dies, compared 14 percent who would blame congressional Democrats and 21 who would blame Obama. Among Latinos, half would blame Republicans, while only six percent would blame Democrats.

Most House Republicans don't have to worry whether immigration reform lives or dies. The vast majority represent seats that have very few Latino voters. But for the others, like Coffman, this proves why there's a lot riding on the fate of immigration reform in the House.

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