ST. GEORGE As the top primary vote-getter in St. George's City Council race, it appeared that Benjamin Nickle's hard-line stand on illegal immigration could be a successful campaign strategy.
But on Tuesday, Nickle was one of three candidates endorsed by anti-illegal immigration groups who lost the election. The three candidates who did win didn't have those endorsements, but they did have the nod of the local business community.
According to Immigration2007.org, a national immigration policy group, St. George wasn't the only local race across the country in which candidates who ran on platforms based on cracking down on illegal immigration lost.
Simon Rosenberg, with Immigration2007.org, went so far as to call using illegal immigration as a wedge "a catastrophic strategy" for some Republican candidates.
"The Republican Party has been more concerned with playing politics than with solving the problem," he said. In the process, candidates have spent huge amounts of money and alienated the fast-growing Hispanic electorate, he said.
But in Washington County, Phyllis Sears, who heads the Citizens Council on Illegal Immigration, sees the St. George elections as a victory, even if the candidates her group was backing didn't win any seats.
She pointed to ads in the days leading up to the election, paid for by the three winning candidates, that focused on illegal immigration.
"If they had not, I think the election would have come out differently," she said.
Before the primary, she said that many of the candidates wouldn't talk about the issue at all. When asked about it, she said, they'd call it a federal issue.
Jon Pike, who garnered the most votes in Tuesday's election, said the issue of illegal immigration "definitely had an impact" on voters.
"We did some research and talked to people and found out that this was the most burning issue on the minds of the people we knew would actually get out and vote," Pike said. "I do believe the citizens were telling us that they wanted some things to change."
Pike said he adjusted his campaign strategy to reflect his commitment to be more proactive in addressing the illegal immigration issue in Washington County.
"I don't know if we would have pulled it off if we didn't come out with a strong, responsible, reasonable and legal plan to address it," he said. "We definitely couldn't leave it out or we wouldn't be here today."
Meanwhile, Ed Baca, a losing candidate who had earned the anti-illegal immigration endorsement, said he would continue to support efforts to curb illegal immigration on the local level, and would consider running for office again in two years when the mayor's position is open.
"I'm disappointed that one of us didn't survive (to win a seat)," said Baca. "It will take a lot of fortitude to do something about illegal immigration."
The winning candidates, he said, "will have to stand up to those that put them in office."
Sears said she would be among those holding the three council members up to their campaign promises.
"Every single one of the candidates that won in St. George strongly supported doing something about illegal immigration strongly in writing, and vocally in ads," she said. "We kept copy of their ads, and we intend to hold their feet to the fire."
However, candidates can be successful by taking a more comprehensive approach, says Pete Brodnitz of the Benson Strategy Group.
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He pointed to local races across the country such as in Virginia, where in a state Senate race, Democrat George Barker won over Republican James O'Brien, who had attacked Barker on the immigration issue. Prince William, a city that this summer opted to curb illegal immigrants' access to public services and increase enforcement by police, comprises one-third of the Senate district.
Brodnitz said in such cases Republicans "tried to focus their campaigns on immigration. The Democrats didn't focus on the issue, but on their leadership style ... Leadership style won out."