Several months ago, many in the media were speculating that hardline border security advocates could not win elections and would likely push voters to more moderate candidates. Early primary election results, and the behavior of candidates, suggests that nothing could be further from the truth, however.
Mike Hellon, for example, just prior to announcing his candidacy was outspoken about his support for an amnesty program for illegals already in our country. He riduculed the idea of a fence on the border and suggested that using the military on our border would not be appropriate.
Once Hellon announced his candidacy, he initially used the term "moderate" when describing his position on the border and other issues. He also made it clear that "any GOP candidate would have to play for the center."
In time, Mike Hellon began beating the drum of border security while maintaining the need for an amnesty program. Now Mike appears to have found religion as he takes every opportunity to preach the gospel of total border security and NO amnesty.
Likewise, every other candidate has at least acknowledged the need for more enforcement at the border regardless of his or her previous resistance to the idea. It's no more Mr. Niceguy when it comes to our poor neighbors to the south tracking across the desert.
Apparently, the candidates are feeling the pressure when it comes to addressing the illegal immigration problem and have decided that anything short of support for controlling illegal immigration keeps them out of the game altogether. How far to take it from there is the next risky step.
Interestingly, it looks like what was once touted as "extreme" by some of the candidates, has become the next fashionable position and Randy Graf no longer stands out in the crowd. In fact, the way the sands have shifted, it appears that instead of hardliners pushing voters to more moderate candidates, the border control crowd has pushed moderate and softline candidates closer to advocating control, and in Hellon's case, all the way to a no tolerance policy.
This shift has created a bit of a conundrum for the candidates. If they don't talk enough about the border and show toughness, they appear out of touch. But if they all pile up on the hardline side of the issue, what can they say to distinguish themselves?
Randy Graf can say "I was there first," but ultimately, there has to be something to single out candidates to the voters that speaks more powerfully than that. Perhaps Randy's consistent message and persistence over two campaigns will make the difference.
In any case, no longer is hard line on the border "extreme." In fact, it has become the trendsetter.