Lou Dobbs: Can he take lessons from a reformed racist to win a Senate seat?
Dobbs wants to challenge Sen. Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, as a third-party candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2012, according to The Wall Street Journal. (He also may run for president, naturally.) Dobbs told reporters that he is "ruling nothing out."
Yes, the world is Dobbs's oyster. But first, he'll have to convince New Jersey Latinos that he's not actually a frothing-at-the-mouth racist, despite his years of incendiary commentary against illegal immigration.
It's a difficult task, but it's not impossible. In the 1960s, Alabama Gov. George Wallace gained national fame with his battle-cry -- "Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!" -- but renounced that view after becoming a born-again Christian. Wallace, who survived a 1972 assassination attempt, later appointed record numbers of African-Americans to positions in his administration and championed voting rights. Of course, not everyone forgave Wallace -- who, like Dobbs, was viewed as a leading political populist -- but many did.
I have no idea whether Dobbs is racist. He has said he is not, of course, but he has certainly fanned the flames of racial intolerance over the years. And now he's taking a page from the Wallace playbook, reaching out to the group he's provoked the most. "Mr. Dobbs told Spanish-language network Telemundo he now supports a plan to legalize millions of undocumented workers, a stance he long lambasted as an unfair 'amnesty,'" the Journal noted.
That's a start, but it's not enough. For Dobbs to stand a chance in a Senate election to represent New Jersey, he'll have to follow the Wallace model and apologize -- clearly and ungrudingly. The Alabama governor repeatedly told the world that his segregationist views were wrong. And Sen. Menendez, a Cuban-American -- the sole Latino in the U.S. Senate -- would make mincemeat of Dobbs in any campaign, particularly if Dobbs ran as a third-party candidate. Both Democrats and Republicans would have a field day. Over the years, Dobbs has generated loads of CNN-produced fodder for 30-second TV spots, including his specious claim that illegal immigrants were responsible for a spike in cases of leprosy. Several months ago, Dobbs notified police that he'd found gunshots fired at his house.
But Dobbs may find a willing audience in New Jersey. Populist rage over high taxes and corruption led voters in this blue state to oust incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine, a Democrat, in favor of Republican challenger Chris Christie. (I'm a liberal New Jersey Democrat -- I volunteered for Barack Obama's presidential campaign -- but to the shock of my friends and family, I supported Christie.)
If the 2012 election were held tomorrow, Menendez might be worried. But his race is years away. Passions can cool, or even change. But that also gives Dobbs some time to mend fences. And if he hopes to get elected to so much as dogcatcher, he's got plenty of fences to mend.