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Minority Vote

2010 Elections Set Milestone in Hispanic Politics

Latinos make a difference in key races; Hispanic candidates extend their reach

— David Goldman/AP Photo

In Santa Fe, New Mexico, Pete Dominguez Jr., 52, helped make history with his vote. He cast his ballot for District Attorney Susana Martinez, a Republican who will become the nation’s first Latina governor.

Like many midterm voters, Dominguez, who helps run a family carpet business, says concern about the economy shaped his decision to vote for Martinez, who he thinks will do more for small businesses than retiring Governor Bill Richardson, a Democrat. “Anything is better than what we’ve had,” Dominguez says.

Staying the Democratic Course

But most Latino voters appear to continue favoring Democratic candidates.

Political research firm Latino Decisions conducted an election-eve poll of likely Hispanic voters in eight states with large Latino populations and determined they bucked this year’s trend toward the GOP. “It was the largest [Latino] vote for Democrats of any election,” says pollster Matt Barreto, a professor of political science at the University of Washington.

In Nevada, Barreto’s poll showed that 90 percent of Latino voters supported U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, helping the Senate’s top Democrat keep his seat in a brutal race against Republican Sharron Angle, the Tea Party favorite. Barreto calls the influence of Hispanics’ votes in Reid’s race “historic.” Latinos were influential in a number of other races, too, he says.

In California, the Latino Decisions poll found that Hispanics gave 86 percent of their support to Democrats Jerry Brown, the state’s new governor-elect, and U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, who won a tough battle for reelection against Carly Fiorina, former Hewlett-Packard CEO.

Brown’s Republican opponent, Meg Whitman, former eBay CEO, lost support among Latinos because of her hard line on immigration, which included banning undocumented students from public colleges and universities, according to Lisa García Bedolla, chair of the Center for Latino Policy Research at the University of California, Berkeley. “People became aware of what her policies were,” García Bedolla says.

Latino support of Democrats did not extend to Florida, however. Although 62 percent of Florida’s Hispanics voted for Rubio, according to the Latino Decisions poll, Barreto says that support came almost entirely from Cuban Americans, who are more likely than other Hispanics to vote Republican. But Jaime Suchlicki, director of the Institute of Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami, predicts Rubio will become part of the Republican Party’s “master plan to make inroads into the Hispanic community” and reverse Latino voters’ increasing loyalty to the Democratic Party.

Latino Turnout

Before the midterm, several polls indicated that Latinos — who voted in record numbers in 2008 — were not motivated to go to the polls this year.

An accurate count of Latino turnout will take some time. But the number of Hispanics casting early ballots was up by 13 percent compared to the 2006 midterm election. And NALEO’s Gold says calls to her organization’s election hotline increased sharply in the days leading up to the election.

“We definitely saw a strong interest among Latino voters,” she says.

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