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On a warm autumn evening, Corey Stewart stood outside the local ICE office in a suburb of Washington. Flanked by 50 supporters, the Republican nominee for a Virginia Senate seat cheered the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency’s work rounding up undocumented immigrants – immigrants, he warned, that are responsible for the state’s homicides, prostitution and drug-dealing.

“How many more young people have to be murdered at the hands of illegal aliens?” he said. “How many more communities have to be destroyed by the illegal drugs coming across the border with Mexico?”

Supporters of Virginia Republican Senate candidate Corey Stewart display a pro-ICE sign on Oct. 9, 2018.

Adrian Morrow/The Globe and Mail

Mr. Stewart’s supporters applauded. Some carried photos of people killed by immigrants. One brandished a placard reading “Nation = borders language culture.” Twenty metres away, a group of counterprotesters tried to drown out the candidate by blasting Latin music through a loudspeaker.

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The Confederate flag-waving chairman of nearby Prince William County – who made his name pioneering the sort of crackdown on illegal immigration that Donald Trump is now expanding countrywide and presaging the President’s recent rhetoric on the “onslaught” of migrants at the southern border – Mr. Stewart, 50, stands at the centre of a great contradiction roiling politics in northern Virginia and testing the future of the Republican Party.

In a place where the GOP could be adapting to massive demographic shifts and nominating candidates who can win over an increasingly diverse voter pool, the party’s base is instead elevating Trump-like candidates who excite a largely white core of supporters but have an ever-diminishing chance of winning.

Supporters of Virginia Republican Senate candidate Corey Stewart, best known for ordering a crackdown on undocumented immigrants as chairman of Prince William County, Va., rally outside the local offices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement to support the organization's efforts to round up immigrants for deportation.

Adrian Morrow/The Globe and Mail

This region is a multicultural suburbia of 2.8 million, where sprawling subdivisions of cookie-cutter houses are punctuated by gleaming new downtowns with office and condo towers. The area boasts larger proportions of Hispanics, Asian-Americans and immigrants than both the state and the country as a whole.

These communities, combined with an influx of well-educated tech and other white-collar workers, have turned the region blue in sufficient numbers to flip the state from reliably Republican to moderately Democratic over the past decade. In all 10 presidential elections from 1968 to 2004, the state backed the GOP. In the three since then, it has supported a Democrat.

It’s a window into a possible future for the United States.

Obliteration by demography

Hispanic and Asian-Americans are the United States' two fastest-growing demographic groups and – with the black proportion of the population holding steady and non-Latino whites declining – they are projected to tip the country’s minorities into the majority over the next quarter-century.

As their numbers have shot up, both groups have decisively broken in favour of the political centre-left: Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton won two-thirds of their votes in 2016. Combined with the Democrats’ decades-long dominance of the black vote, the party’s advantage with these groups gives them a steadily growing edge over a whiter, older GOP.

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This reality presents a stark choice for Republicans: Abandon the nativist direction in which the President has steered the party, or risk obliteration by demography.

But if such numbers should be urging Republicans in one direction, the party’s base is pushing it in another. Rather than nominating a moderate candidate to take on Tim Kaine, Ms. Clinton’s erstwhile vice-presidential running mate and incumbent senator in the Nov. 6 midterm election, the state’s GOP voters chose Mr. Stewart.

Under his administration, Prince William County since 2007 has cut services to unauthorized immigrants and had local police demand paperwork from people suspected of being in the country illegally – initially including people who were not even under arrest – and refer those without it for deportation.

Republican Corey Stewart talks during the Virginia senatorial debate with Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, at Capital One headquarters, on Sept. 26, 2018.

Katherine Frey/The Associated Press

Despite being a Minnesota transplant, Mr. Stewart has embraced the fight to keep monuments to Confederate generals in his adopted state and proclaimed his love for the rebel flag. Early last year, he appeared at one event with Jason Kessler, who would go on to organize the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va.

In the days before the vote, Mr. Stewart is using ads attacking the caravan of thousands of Central American migrants wending its way through Mexico to the United States that Mr. Trump has threatened to shut down with the military. Over images of migrants marching down a highway and tangling with Mexican police, the candidate vows to “stop the illegal alien invasion.”

The RealClearPolitics average of polls shows Mr. Kaine leading Mr. Stewart by 18 points.

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Bill Crosby, a 75-year-old lawyer and lobbyist who turned out at Mr. Stewart’s pro-ICE rally, referred favourably to Mr. Trump’s infamous “shithole countries” comment – in which he lamented that immigrants to the United States were coming from Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean instead of Northern Europe.

“It’s not people from Norway coming in. It’s people … coming here to leech off this country,” he said. “They clearly are not able to run their own countries effectively and I don’t want them to bring their problems here.”

Carol Fox, a former teacher now home-schooling her grandchildren, claimed left-wing politicians are “putting illegals ahead of American citizens” and giving undocumented immigrants “free tuition.”

This region is a multicultural suburbia of 2.8 million, where sprawling subdivisions of cookie-cutter houses are punctuated by gleaming new downtowns with office and condo towers.

Leigh Vogel/The Globe and Mail

Allegations that undocumented immigrants are more violent or less economically productive than anyone else are without substance. One study by the libertarian Cato Institute earlier this year, for instance, found immigrants in Texas – both legal and undocumented – had lower overall rates of crime than native-born people. As for Ms. Fox’s claim: Ten states allow unauthorized immigrants to apply for financial aid for college tuition; this gives them the same ability as citizens to seek help, not a leg-up over native-born students.

Choosing to appeal to the Mr. Crosbys and Ms. Foxes of the country was not an inevitability for the GOP: As recently as 2004, then-president George W. Bush won over more than 40 per cent of Hispanic voters in part by playing up his social conservatism, which went over well among the many devout Catholics in the community. In the early 1990s, two-thirds of Asian-American voters backed the Republican Party, a number that has completely reversed within a generation.

The GOP’s increasingly harsh stand on immigration in the 2000s erased Mr. Bush’s efforts to court Latinos. Repeated attempts at passing immigration changes that would offer the country’s 12 million undocumented immigrants a path to legal status foundered amid opposition from congressional Republicans.

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Voter composition by race/origin

Voter composition by race/origin

1980

White non-Hispanic: 87.6%

Rest of voters: 12.4%

2016

White non-Hispanic: 73.3%

Rest of voters: 26.7%

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: U.S. CENSUS BUREAU

Voter composition by race/origin

Voter composition by race/origin

1980

White non-Hispanic: 87.6%

Rest of voters: 12.4%

2016

White non-Hispanic: 73.3%

Rest of voters: 26.7%

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: U.S. CENSUS BUREAU

Voter composition by race/origin

1980

2016

White non-Hispanic: 87.6%

White non-Hispanic: 73.3%

Rest of voters: 12.4%

Rest of voters: 26.7%

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: U.S. CENSUS BUREAU

The new Virginia

After Mitt Romney’s loss in the 2012 presidential election, in which he pulled barely a quarter of Hispanic and Asian-American votes, the Republican National Committee issued a scathing postmortem that concluded the party had to pitch a bigger tent and embrace immigration reform.

“The nation’s demographic changes add to the urgency of recognizing how precarious our position has become,” the report warned. “We need to campaign among Hispanic, black, Asian and gay Americans and demonstrate we care about them, too.”

Mr. Trump, of course, succeeded with the opposite strategy. But Rachel Bitecofer, a political scientist at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Va., argues that the underlying premise of the GOP’s report is still correct. The President, after all, lost the popular vote and only won the election because of knife-edge victories in Rust Belt swing states.

“Trump’s victory was serendipity in that sense: So many things had to happen at the same time for him,” Prof. Bitecofer said in an interview. “And even though they happened, it didn’t change the fundamental demographic tidal wave that’s coming.”

Anh Tu Do, a 57-year-old real estate agent and Virginia Republican volunteer, has seen the effect of that wave. Ms. Do, who emigrated from Vietnam in 1986, says it’s often an uphill battle to persuade fellow immigrants to back her party in the age of Mr. Trump.

“Some of the people, as soon as you mention his name, they push you away, they don’t even want to hear,” she said as she ran a Republican booth at a Vietnamese festival outside of a shopping and office complex at Tysons Corner in Fairfax County, just north of Prince William. “The hard part is, there’s a wall there. You have to push through the wall.”

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The Minnieville Plaza in Dale City, Va., on Oct. 25, 2018.

Leigh Vogel/The Globe and Mail

Ms. Do sees unauthorized migrants as queue-jumpers. Her brother came to the United States as a refugee toward the end of the Vietnam War, and she had to wait more than a decade before his attempts to sponsor her were successful.

“We came the legal way. It’s not fair for the legal immigrants who have to wait longer in line and some people come illegally across the border,” she said.

As for Mr. Trump’s attempts to cut back the number of legal refugees and family-sponsored immigrants – the categories that allowed Ms. Do and her family to come to the United States – she says she understands that, too. “We want to help everybody, but we have to think of the resources … we have to think what’s best for the country,” she said.

The wall for Ms. Do is an opportunity for the Democrats.

A few booths down, Praveen Meyyan, an organizer with the Democratic Asian Americans of Virginia, described his group’s efforts to mobilize minority voters. They produce multilingual campaign material, organize canvasses of minority-heavy areas and have volunteers on hand to speak with voters in their first languages.

Supporters of Virginia Republican Senate candidate Corey Stewart, on Oct. 9, 2018.

Adrian Morrow/The Globe and Mail

Even though Mr. Trump’s harshest rhetoric has been targeted at Latinos, he says, Asian-Americans also feel stung by his anti-immigrant attitude. The President is trying to scale back visas for high-skilled workers and their spouses, and put new limits on family sponsorships.

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He swept his arm across the concrete plaza, where children performed a dragon dance and the scent of pho wafted over the crowd.

“This is the new Virginia,” he said. “This was the Confederacy, literally where we’re standing. And now, it’s this.”

‘They say things that are not rational, and they do it with such arrogance’

On one sweltering Saturday afternoon, Carla Bustillos, vice-chair of a local Latino Democratic group, canvassed a Prince William County neighbourhood with a large Hispanic population. In her doorstep pitch, she described how Mr. Stewart led the way on the sort of immigration policies Mr. Trump is now expanding across the country.

A 38-year-old stay-at-home mother of three, Ms. Bustillos says she felt she had to step up her activism both because of Mr. Trump’s election and an uptick in everyday racism she attributes to it. On one occasion, for instance, a woman at a supermarket heard one of Ms. Bustillos’s children counting in Spanish and told her she needed to learn to count in English as well.

“It raises a responsibility to get involved to defend the community,” she said. “I don’t want my children growing up thinking brown is bad.”

Carla Bustillos, centre, vice-chair of a local Latino Democratic group in Alexandria, Va., prepares to phonebank with Elizabeth R. Guzmán, left, Peruvian-American politician and social worker elected to represent Virginia's 31st House of Delegates.

Leigh Vogel/The Globe and Mail

At one blue bungalow, Jose Bonilla, a 67-year-old construction company manager who emigrated from El Salvador 43 years ago, answered the door. Once a loyal Republican voter, he recounted how he admires former GOP president Ronald Reagan and identifies with the party’s free-market values.

But Mr. Bonilla couldn’t bring himself to support the GOP ticket in 2016. He was turned off by Mr. Trump’s attacks on Hispanic immigrants, and a political style that reminded him of the demagogic strongmen he thought he’d long ago left behind.

“In this country, we were sure there was racism, but people couldn’t come out and scream about it. Now they do,” he said as he stood on his veranda. “I see similarities between Donald Trump and Nicolas Maduro and Hugo Chavez. They say things that are not rational, and they do it with such arrogance.”

Ms. Bustillos nodded in agreement. “This is the only way – we’ve got to stick together,” she said.

Mr. Stewart, ironically, seems to be well aware of the need to court immigrants – or at least stop driving people such as Mr. Bonilla away. He emphasizes that his crackdown is targeted at illegal immigration only. And, unlike Mr. Trump, he supports increasing legal immigration.

In an interview on the sidelines of the ICE rally, Mr. Stewart insisted that his policies are not racially motivated.

“Americans are not as obsessed with racial issues as the left and some in the mainstream media are. I think that’s one thing I’ve learned,” he said.

He described the Confederate battle flag as a “symbol of heritage and of history” and claimed it “was never a symbol of slavery.”

When reminded that the Confederacy was founded primarily to preserve slavery – with a clause in its constitution explicitly prohibiting the government from abolishing the practice – Mr. Stewart ended the conversation.

“No, that’s not exactly right,” he said. “But look, I’m not going to get into a history discussion with you, because that’s not what this race is about.”

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