With more than a dozen non-incumbent Latino candidates who are on track to win seats in Congress, Latinos are poised to make significant political gains in the 2012 election.
According to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), up to 14 non-incumbent Latino candidates could join Congress next year.
In the U.S. House of Representatives, five of them have “excellent prospects” of winning a seat and seven more are running in competitive races. In the Senate, two non-incumbent Latino candidates also have high chances of winning.
Mickey Ibarra, president of the Ibarra Strategy Group, a government relations and public affairs firm based in Washington, D.C., estimates at least 12 new Latinos could join Congress next year. He told VOXXI that is the highest number he has seen since he moved to the nation’s capital in 1984.
“This is a milestone,” Ibarra said. “We have never ever seen a cycle where we have 12 Latinos who are running for Congress and that clearly have a viable chance of winning.”
In the U.S. Senate, where Democrats hold a narrow lead, Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz could help Republicans secure the lead. The GOP will have a majority in the Senate if they pick up four seats in the November elections.
Latino candidates can make history
Cruz, who is a Cuban running as a Republican, is projected to win the race against the former Democratic state Rep. Paul Sadler. If Cruz is victorious, he will make history by becoming the first Latino senator to represent Texas and the third member in the Senate who is of Cuban descent. Current Latino Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) are both Cuban.
The former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona, a Puerto Rican running as a Democrat in Arizona, is the other Latino vying for a Senate seat. Like Cruz, Carmona could become the first Latino senator to represent his state. He could also help Democrats strengthen their lead in the Senate.
A recent poll shows Carmona is leading his challenger U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) 45-43.
If both Cruz and Carmona win, the number of Latinos in the Senate will double from two to four.
Rosalind Gold, senior director of policy, research and advocacy with NALEO, told VOXXI the U.S. House of Representatives could see a bigger gain of Latino members. She said up to 12 non-incumbent Latinos could possibly win a seat in the House.
She pointed to a report NALEO recently released that lists five Latinos who have “excellent prospects” of winning a seat in the House.
Included in that list are:
- Los Angeles City Councilmember Tony Cardenas (D), who would become the first Latino U.S. Representative from Southern California’s San Fernando Valley area (29th congressional district);
- Texas State Rep. Joaquin Castro (D), who is running in the San Antonio area (20th congressional district);
- Former Bernalillo County Commissioner Michelle Lujan Grisham (D), who is running in New Mexico’s Albuquerque area (1st congressional district);
- California State Senator Juan Vargas (D), who is running in a district that encompasses parts of three counties in the southernmost part of the state (51st congressional district); and
- Attorney Filemon Vela, Jr. (D), who is running in a newly-created district in South Texas that extends north from the Gulf Coast up to Gonzales County (34th congressional district).
Gold said there are seven more non-incumbent Latino candidates who are competing in tight races that are too close to call. One of those races is between U.S. Rep. Francisco “Quico” Canseco and Democratic state Rep. Pete Gallego. Both candidates are competing in Texas’ 23rd congressional district.
Gold also noted that at least four new Latino candidates are running in non-majority Latino districts and have high chances of winning. Those candidates include: astronaut and engineer Jose Hernandez; Dr. Raul Ruiz from California; Former Lt. Governor Abel Maldonado of California; and Nevada Speaker of the Assembly John Oceguera.
“This shows you that Latinos can appeal to and represent divers constituencies,” Gold told VOXXI.
According to NALEO, there are currently 24 Latinos serving as members of the House. Seventeen of them are Democrats and seven are Republican. That number could increase to as many as 31 after the November elections.
An increase in elected Latinos would also change the share of Latinos in Congress. All together, Latinos currently make up about 5 percent of the membership in Congress.
Even though Latinos are predicted to make modest gains in Congress, their political representation will still not reflect their population in the United States.
U.S. Census data shows that with a population of 52 million, Latinos made up nearly 17 percent of the nation’s total population last summer. That’s not counting the 3.7 million Puerto Ricans.
Ibarra said these numbers show there is still “more work to do” in order to elect Latinos who will represent the issues that this vastly growing population care about.
“We are better off as a nation when our leadership reflects the diversity in this country,” he added.
Still, Ibarra said he’s encouraged by the prospects of the 2012 election, pointing out that the Latino candidates all have powerful personal stories.
One candidate he pointed to is Raul Ruiz, who is running to represent California in Congress. Ruiz is the son of farmworker parents and is the first Latino to earn three graduate degrees from Harvard University.
“Their stories remind us of the opportunities here for us,” Ibarra told VOXXI.