Following Eric Cantor’s loss in a Republican Primary last night in which pundits say his position on immigration reform played a major role, Phil Berger Jr. today launched a radio ad aimed at his opponent in the runoff for the Sixth District Nomination.
Cantor, a Virginia Republican, had served as House Majority Leader under Speaker John Boehner. He was defeated by a grassroots candidate in a Republican primary held yesterday. Cantor had presented a mixed message to voters, claiming in campaign materials to oppose immigration reform, while advancing legislation in Congress toward that end.
Berger Jr.’s campaign wasted no time in the wake of Cantor’s defeat to seize on the obvious passion that conservative Republican voters have for a zero-tolerance approach to giving a pathway to citizenship to those in the country illegally.
The campaign released a radio ad today in which Berger Jr. highlights opponent Mark Walker’s supposed support for immigration reform.
“As a prosecutor, I’ve seen first hand the effect of illegal immigration: the overcrowding of our jails, illegals feeding off our tax dollars, and jeopardizing public safety,” Berger Jr. said in the ad. “My opponent Mark Walker promises to give amnesty to illegal aliens. Walker supports creating a pathway to citizenship for the millions who broke the law and came to this country illegally. His legislation would only encourage more illegal immigration and would make our problem worse, not better.”
A campaign spokesperson said the ad was “a major media buy” and would debut on conservative talk networks across the district.
At issue are comments on a Walker website from early in the campaign when he suggested incremental immigration reform that could provide a pathway to citizenship. Walker said at a recent candidate forum that he did not support amnesty for illegal immigrants or a pathway to citizenship, as reported by the Rhino Times.
Walker said in a telephone interview that the Berger Jr. campaign had quoted him inaccurately, accusing the campaign of pulling a partial quote from a blog post Walker made early in the campaign as he began to put his platform together. Walker said that his background as a pastor and working in immigrant and refugee communities had played a part in those comments.
“My heart is for people from all walks of life,” Walker said. “My oath to the Constitution is to protect the border and the ports.”
Walker said that he does not favor any form of amnesty.
“We need to make sure our border and ports are very secure before we can get into legislation, otherwise you have an open ended situation to deal with,” Walker said.
Walker also pointed to the fact that he had been endorsed by Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson, whom Walker called “the strongest anti-amnesty sheriff in the district.” Walker said that no sheriff in the district had endorsed Berger Jr.
“I think it’s interesting that as a DA he doesn’t have his own sheriff’s support or the support of any sheriff in the district,” Walker said. “I think if you are going to talk about obeying the law, you need to ask why is that?”
The Walker campaign also seized on Cantor’s loss by highlighting the Berger Jr. campaign’s tenuous connection to political strategists used by the former House Majority Leader.
“It is clear that Phil Berger, Jr., is the D.C. establishment candidate in this race,” Walker said in a press release. “Political insiders on Capitol Hill have handpicked Berger to come to D.C. and serve as a rubber stamp for their agenda. Berger’s wealthy friends have paid Cantor’s team tens of thousands of dollars to come to North Carolina and attack me, while promoting him. It says a lot when his Super PAC is being run by Eric Cantor’s political henchmen. The political class is investing all this money to support Berger for a reason.”
The connection comes in the form of Ray Allen, a political consultant from the Richmond firm Creative Direct, which Cantor used. A Super PAC from Raleigh, Keep Conservatives United, also used Creative Direct in its advocacy for candidates leading up to the May primary. Keep Conservatives United expressed support for Berger Jr. and launched several negative ads and direct mail pieces at other candidates in the race. Candidate campaigns are prohibited by law from coordinating with Super PACs.