A lot of people will tell you that the party’s platform is irrelevant. But beyond what it might predict about what a president would do, platforms are also one of the ways that political parties figure out who they are and which groups they represent. That’s why it’s worth paying attention to an effort by three Democratic Senate candidates, led by New Mexico’s Martin Heinrich, to put the DREAM Act in the platform.
In 2008, the Democratic platform called for comprehensive immigration reform – but the details supplied were mostly about being tougher at the border. So specifically endorsing the DREAM Act would be new.
Heinrich and the other two candidates – Nevada’s Shelley Berkley and Richard Carmona in Arizona – are all locked in competitive races in states with large Latino populations. Heinrich is slightly favored to win in New Mexico, while Nevada is generally considered leaning Republican for the Senate seat and Carmona is a longshot, although one with a realistic chance at winning. Of course, immigration has been a particularly hot issue in Arizona over the last two years. The stakes here are large; Latinos favor Democrats, but to date have not been overwhelmingly in the Democratic camp the way that African Americans, for example, have been since the 1960s. What’s more, turnout is a major concern for the Hispanic community. And while Barack Obama has strongly supported DREAM Act and recently supported it with administrative actions, he and the Democrats have not come close to passing comprehensive immigration reform, and Latino groups have complained that it wasn’t a high enough priority for the administration.
Highlighting the DREAM act, which is generally popular, is a good way for Democrats to signal that Latinos are an important part of their coalition – and try to keep the immigration debate in these states framed in a way that tends to help Democrats. For the Democratic platform committee, this one’s a no-brainer, and proposing it and getting it included in the platform is an easy way for Heinrich, Berkley, and Carmona to benefit from some earned media attention.