Columnist Green falsely asserted that Dem debate “ignored” so-called “leading issue for the 2008 elections” : immigration

In his column about the most recent Democratic presidential debate, published November 18 on the websites of The Pueblo Chieftain and the Aurora Sentinel & Daily Sun, Chuck Green claimed that while moderator and CNN host Wolf Blitzer “was obsessed with the driver's license controversy,” he was “distracted by the main issue: Immigration enforcement.” Green further asserted that "[i]llegal immigration has emerged, in most Americans' minds, as the leading issue for the 2008 elections," and claimed that the debate “ignored” that “central question.” Contrary to Green's assertions, several recent national polls show that immigration ranks below the economy, war in Iraq, and health care as a priority for Americans, while the debate transcript reveals that several candidates discussed immigration.

In a November 18 online column published by The Pueblo Chieftain and the Aurora Sentinel & Daily Sun, about the November 15 Democratic presidential debate, Chuck Green asserted that while debate moderator and CNN host Wolf Blitzer “was obsessed with the driver's license controversy, which was [U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham] Clinton's stumbling block” in the previous debate, “he was distracted by the main issue: Immigration enforcement.” Green added that "[i]llegal immigration has emerged, in most Americans' minds, as the leading issue for the 2008 elections," and claimed that “the central question” was “ignored” during the debate. In fact, as Colorado Media Matters has noted, several recent polls show that Americans consider the economy, the war in Iraq, health care, terrorism, and national security higher-priority issues than immigration. Furthermore, according to a CNN transcript of the Las Vegas debate, several of the seven Democratic candidates addressed the topic of immigration.

In his column, Green also said his decision to watch the debate made him “stupider than a first-grader” :

It wasn't a pretty sight.

The TV was on, tuned to CNN. The 247th 2007 Democratic primary candidates' debate was showing, and Wolf Blitzer was asking questions. I was pacing the living room, talking to myself.

“Why doesn't anyone answer the question?” I finally yelled to my wife, who was in the other room watching “Are you Smarter than a Fifth-Grader?”

Clearly, I'm not. I had chosen to watch the presidential debates, which is stupider than a first-grader.

[...]

The biggest loser of the night, in the opinion of this observer, was Wolf Blitzer. He was an innocent lamb, not a wolf, and there was no blitz in his playbook.

His pursuit of the issue over providing driver's licenses to illegal immigrants missed the point entirely. While he was obsessed with the driver's license controversy, which was Mrs. Clinton's stumbling point in the 246th debate two weeks ago, he was distracted by the main issue: Immigration enforcement.

Illegal immigration has emerged, in most Americans' minds, as the leading issue for the 2008 elections, but the central question was ignored Thursday night.

Not surprisingly, Clinton's campaign was thrilled with the way the debate evolved. They had nothing but praise for Blitzer's light-weight management of the night's discussion, compared to their disapproval of NBC's Tim Russert who asked penetrating, persistent questions in the previous debate.

Contrary to Green's contention that illegal immigration has become “in most Americans' minds” the “leading issue for the 2008 elections,” recent polling shows that Americans consider the economy, the war in Iraq, health care, terrorism, and national security higher-priority issues:

  • According to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll of adults nationwide conducted November 1-5 by the polling organizations of Peter Hart and Bill McInturff, when asked which issue “should be the top priority for the federal government,” 26 percent said “The war in Iraq,” 16 percent said “Health care,” 14 percent said “Job creation and economic growth,” 13 percent said “Terrorism.” Eleven percent of those polled answered “Illegal immigration.” The poll's margin of error was 2.5 percentage points.
  • Similarly, a Newsweek poll conducted October 31-November 1 by “Princeton Survey Research Associates International” asked registered voters, “In deciding which presidential candidate to support in 2008, which one of the following issues is most important to you?” Only 7 percent of respondents said “Immigration.” According to the poll, 22 percent of voters identified “The economy and jobs” as the issue most important to them, while 19 percent said “Iraq,” 17 percent said “Health care,” 15 percent said “Terrorism and national security,” and 10 percent said “Taxes and government spending.” The poll's margin of error was 4 percentage points.
  • Finally, a Gallup poll conducted October 25-28 asked Americans “to name, in their own words, what 'one or two issues should be the top priorities for the president and Congress to deal with at this time.' ” More respondents cited the war in Iraq (62 percent), health care (29 percent), and the economy (18 percent) than immigration (11 percent) among the federal government's top one or two priorities. The margin of error was 4 percentage points with a 95 percent level of confidence.

Furthermore, the transcript of the CNN debate contradicts Green's assertion that the “central question” about immigration “was ignored.” In addition to Blitzer asking whether each candidate would support or oppose granting driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, CNN's Campbell Brown directly asked Sen. Barack Obama (IL) about illegal immigration, noting, “It's an important issue in this state in particular. There are between 100,000 to 200,000 illegal immigrants here in Nevada.” She continued:

And you supported various benefits for illegal immigrants, including drivers licenses and in-state college tuition. What do you say to those Americans who say they are losing out because you would give benefits to people who broke the laws of this country, who came here illegally.

And then more generally, as president, where do you draw the line when it comes to benefits for illegal immigrants?

Obama replied that the Bush administration “has done nothing to control the problem that we have. We've had 5 million undocumented workers come over the borders since George Bush took office. It has become an extraordinary problem.” He also added:

Now, I have already stated that as president I will make sure that we finally have the kind of border security that we need. That's step number one. Step number two is to take on employers. Right now, an employer has more of a chance of getting hit by lightning than be prosecuted for hiring an undocumented worker. That has to change.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson similarly discussed immigration enforcement:

States have to act when the federal government and the Congress doesn't act. The answer is comprehensive immigration. The answer is ... secure the borders, a stronger relationship with Mexico. Those that knowingly hire illegal workers ... should be punished. And a path to legalization. That is the solution."

Later, in response to an audience member's question -- “Do you consider fighting terrorism and slowing the flow of illegal immigration coming from our southern border as intrinsically related issues?” -- Richardson elaborated on his plan for immigration reform:

What I would do is do four quick things. One, we have to secure the border. Double the number of border patrol agents. Keep the National Guard there a little longer. Detection equipment, as you mentioned.

Secondly, those who knowingly hire illegal workers should be punished.

Third, we should have a relationship -- it's called foreign policy -- with Mexico. They're our friend. But we should speak frankly to our friends, and it should be something like this: Mexico, give jobs to your people.

At the very least ...You know, at the very least, stop handing out maps on the easiest place to cross.

And then, lastly, a legalization plan -- a legalization plan. Not amnesty, not citizenship, but a path to legalization that involves conditions -- learning English ... Paying back-taxes.

Moreover, Blitzer asked former Sen. John Edwards (NC), “In the absence of comprehensive immigration reform -- doesn't look like it's going to happen any time soon -- do you support driver's licenses for illegal immigrants?” Edwards responded, “No, but I don't accept the proposition that we're not going to have comprehensive immigration reform. What I do support, and what I will do as president of the United States, is move this country toward comprehensive immigration reform.”

Sen. Christopher Dodd (CT) also stated that he supported “immigration reform” :

Certainly, the whole idea of getting immigration reform is something I strongly support. But I believe part of our job is to discourage those who want to come here -- I understand why they want to come, but coming illegally creates serious problems -- four to 500,000.

Finally, in response to the same question Richardson was asked regarding terrorism and illegal immigration, Dodd stated, “In certain places you could make a case that a wall might help, not of course on the entire border. I am opposed to that. But the idea of having some sort of better security, including additional guards, additional technology here to allow us to deal with the issues.”