The Presidential race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney isn’t the only game Latino voters should be paying attention to on November 6th. According to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), a total of 49 Latino candidates from both sides of the aisle, 32 Democrats, 16 Republicans and one undeclared, are running for national congressional seats in this election across 12 states. NALEO predicts that the number of Latinos in the House is likely to increase from 24 to 27 and could reach as high as 31. This sets the stage for the percentage of Latino held seats in the 113th Congress to be just about equal to our representation in the general U.S. population. These races represent the demographic changes Latinos are creating across the country, and some even represent a shift away from traditionally assumed party loyalties. So which are some critical races to watch?
1. Tony Cardenas, Democrat vs. David R. Hernandez, Independent in the 29th district of California- NALEO says Cardenas has an excellent chance of winning in this “opportunity district” and it’s no wonder why. Cardenas, a Los Angeles City Councilman running in a newly drawn majority Latino district, has the backing of the California Democratic Party, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and labor. If Cardenas wins, he will be the first Latino U.S. Representative from Southern California’s San Fernando Valley area. This district contains predominantly Latino neighborhoods that were cut in the 2001 redistricting cycle non-Latino areas were added to the southern part of the district. Now the district citizen voting age population is half Latino.
2. Jose Hernandez, Democrat vs Rep. Jeff Denham,Republican in the 10th district of California – “Astro” Jose Hernandez a former space shuttle astronaut with a from Modesto, is challenging incumbent Denham in this newly drawn district. Although Hernandez has strong national Democratic support, this is expected to be a close race with Democrats holding a tiny 1,805-vote edge in registration over Republicans, while about 16 percent are independent and Hernandez will have to earn the votes of non-Latinos.
3. Abel Maldonado, Republican vs. U.S. Rep. Lois Capps, Democrat in the 24th district of California – Maldonado, the Former Lt. Governor and child of farm workers has to earn non Latino votes to win this critical redrawn district. It will be interesting to see if Latinos in the district show Democratic party loyalty or go beyond partisan politics and vote for Maldonado who is known as a moderate not afraid to go against his own GOP.
4. Dr. Raul Ruiz, Democrat vs. U.S. Rep. Mary Bono Mack, Republican in the 36th district of California – the results of this tight race, like the one above, could change the partisan representation of the district and if Ruiz, a Harvard graduate with a rags to riches story, wants to win he needs to earn more than the Latino vote in this redrawn district.
5. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Democrat vs. Janice Arnold-Jones, Republican in New Mexico’s 1st district – NALEO says Former Bernalillo County Commissioner Lujan Grisham has an excellent chance at winning this Albuquerque area race. The widow and mother of two comes from a political family. She’s the granddaughter of the first Latino chief justice of New Mexico’s Supreme Court. Grisham’s uncle is Manuel Lujan, Jr., served in the House of Representatives seat she is seeking as a Republican, and served as Secretary of Interior during the presidency of George H. W. Bush. A Lujan Grisham’s win would give New Mexico a majority Latino House delegation.
In terms of the Democrats who are running for Congress, these candidates are part of a larger push by the party to expand its bench of Latinos given the reality that in 2010, the GOP recruited a handful of successful Latino candidates.
“This election could bring the largest class of Hispanics entering Congress in our history,” explained Robby Mook, Executive Director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “It’s been a priority for House Democrats to recruit candidates that reflect the diversity of views and diversity of backgrounds that make our Democratic Party strong.”