It’s the lead story on cable news, it’s a top issue among Granite State voters, and exit polls show it played a key role in the First in the Nation presidential primary.
So, it’s no surprise the two Republicans running for New Hampshire governor have made illegal immigration and border security centerpieces of their campaigns.
But when asked about the current border chaos, the two Democrats seeking the corner office have no comment.
Former state Senate president Chuck Morse and former U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte are more than happy to talk about their get-tough approach to border enforcement. But Cinde Warmington, the lone Democrat member of the state’s Executive Council, and Joyce Craig, the former Manchester mayor, have ignored questions on their stance on the new Senate border bill, sanctuary city policies, or immigration enforcement.
It’s a strategy that’s unlikely to survive once the race for governor gets hot and heavy, political professionals tell NHJournal.
“They’re putting their heads in the sand and hoping this issue goes away,” one Granite State strategist told NHJournal on background. “We know it isn’t going anywhere, and it will be a big deal come November.”
Immigration isn’t typically a topic of debate in a governor’s race, particularly in a purple New England state like New Hampshire. But events have intervened — in particular, the disaster currently unfolding in Massachusetts.
The Bay State’s progressive Gov. Maura Healey has been forced to declare a state of emergency as migrants poured into the “sanctuary state” of Massachusetts. A group of illegal immigrants was recently transferred from a makeshift Logan International Airport shelter to a Boston recreation center located in the predominately African-American community of Roxbury, sparking anger from local residents.
And yet Healey, a longtime supporter of sanctuary policies like giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, has not abandoned her progressive politics. Nor is she abandoning Joyce Craig, her endorsed candidate in the gubernatorial primary.
All of this is happening against a backdrop of record illegal crossings of both the southern and northern borders. The GOP candidates are pressing their advantage.
Ayotte has adopted the slogan “We can’t let them MASS up New Hampshire!” and connected the policies of Bay State Democrats to her Granite State opponents.
“Joyce Craig and Cinde Warmington support open borders and sanctuary cities – the same policies that have led to the dangerous crisis at our borders, and the illegal immigrant crisis that is destroying Massachusetts,” said Ayotte campaign spokesman John Corbett. “With Joyce (Craig) or Cinde (Warmington) as governor, these problems would move into our communities right here in New Hampshire. Kelly Ayotte won’t let that happen.”
David Carney, strategist with the Morse campaign, says the former state senator is the only Republican “with a strong and consistent position of supporting border security and opposing amnesty. Seeing that the crisis is spreading across the country and the outcry coming from a majority of New Hampshire voters shows that border security is indeed a huge issue. One they demand to see solved.
“The weak, feckless duck-and-cover strategy from other campaigns will not fool voters for long,” Carney added.
In the current debate over a bipartisan border bill backed by President Joe Biden and Sens. Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen, Healey is also on board.
“This bipartisan national security bill would make critical progress toward fixing our broken federal immigration system,” Healey said in a statement. “It will strengthen our border security, expedite work permits, make the asylum process more fair and efficient, and more,” the governor added. “It’s time to put politics aside — Congress should pass this bill without delay.”
But Craig and Warmington are both vigorously avoiding making any comment, for or against. They refused to answer direct questions from NHJournal, and there is no mention of the bill on their social media.
The Senate bill would funnel $1.4 billion into Massachusetts’ beleaguered Shelter and Services program. In December, the Bay State’s all-Democratic congressional delegation issued a formal plea for more federal funding, claiming “Massachusetts received less than its fair share of federal assistance to help states pay for shelters for migrants, leaving the Bay State to expend increasingly large sums of money to provide humanitarian aid to arriving migrants.”
Ayotte and Morse have both ripped into the proposal. Ayotte called it “watered-down legislation that fails to secure our borders and keep the American people safe,” while Morse denounced it as an “amnesty plan” and a “swamp bill.”
While Craig refuses to support or oppose the Biden-backed plan, she has previously gone on record opposing legislation seeking to prevent Granite State cities from adopting sanctuary policies. A similar bill is currently before the state Senate.
Ayotte’s campaign has regularly targeted Craig’s attempts to avoid revealing her immigration policies. “New Hampshire residents deserve to know: Does Joyce Craig still support these disastrous sanctuary policies after the damage caused in Massachusetts?”
Craig described Ayotte’s comments in a statement to the Boston Herald as “tired partisan political attacks” but stopped short of sharing her views on immigration policy.
A January poll conducted by The Boston Globe, USA Today, and Suffolk University Political Research Center of likely primary voters showed that almost 80 percent of respondents identified the influx of migrants illegally crossing the border as an “emergency situation” or a “major problem.”