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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

En español | Latinos’ votes saved a few endangered Democrats and helped create a new GOP star in Florida. The nation's first Latina governor also was elected. And Hispanic candidates — some running as Republicans — won political races in places Latinos had never sought office before.

In many ways, the 2010 elections set a new milestone in Hispanic politics.

The election featured “one of the largest numbers of viable Latino candidates" ever to seek office, according to Rosalind Gold, of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. “Hispanic candidates were able to raise money and they were strategic: They knew what races to run for,” adds Gold, NALEO’s senior director of policy, research and advocacy.

The number of Hispanics casting early ballots was up by 13 percent compared to the 2006 midterm election.

Latinos vied for top offices in 40 states, extending their reach from states that are heavily Hispanic, like California, Florida and New Mexico, to places where they are an emerging population, such as the Deep South, Midwest and New England. As a result of the election, there are more Latinos in statewide office and it’s likely their numbers have increased in state legislatures, Gold says. Those results should be clear in the next few days.

“Riding the Crest of the Republican Tide”

There’s another indication of the political maturity and increased ideological diversity of the Latino community: As the GOP gained strength, wresting control of the U.S. House of Representatives and winning new Senate seats and governorships, a number of those swept into office were Republican Latinos. “Latinos were riding the crest of the Republican tide that washed over the nation,” Gold says, noting that some of the Republican Latinos ran and won in districts without Hispanic majorities.

In Congress, several Hispanic lawmakers lost their seats, including Reps. John Salazar, D-Col., and Ciro Rodriguez, D-Texas. But Latinos maintained their numbers in the House because voters elected several Hispanic Republicans, including San Antonio businessman Francisco “Quico” Canseco, who defeated Rodriguez, and David Rivera, who won an open seat in South Florida.

Also in Texas, Republican businessman Bill Flores, 56, defeated longtime U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, a Democrat. Jaime Herrera, 31, a former House aide and Republican state legislator, won an open House seat in Washington state, becoming the first Hispanic to serve in Congress from that state. Another Republican, Raul Labrador, 42, who was born in Puerto Rico, defeated U.S. Rep. Walter Minnick to represent the state of Idaho in Congress.

And in Florida, Republican Cuban American Marco Rubio, 39, won a U.S. Senate seat. As a new star in the GOP firmament, Rubio is already being touted as a possible vice presidential candidate for 2012. And he’s not hiding from his roots. As he said in his victory speech, “No matter where I go, whatever title I may achieve, I will always be the son of exiles.”

When it came to statewide office, another Hispanic Republican scored a huge victory in Nevada: Attorney General Brian Sandoval, 47, was elected his state’s first Hispanic governor, by a margin of 53 percent to 41 percent.

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