Everyone is talking about how Latinos may have influenced the election. What’s getting less notice is that more Latinos than ever are heading to Washington.
Tuesday’s election brought one more Hispanic to the U.S. Senate, bringing the total to three. History was made when Ted Cruz, a Republican candidate, became the first Latino to represent Texas in the U.S. Senate after he handily defeated Democratic challenger Paul Sadler in the seat currently held by retiring GOP Sen. Kay Baily Hutchison.
Cruz joins New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat who easily won reelection Tuesday, and Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican. All three are attorneys and Cuban American in a country where an overwhelming majority of Latinos are Mexican.
But that’s where their similarities lie – ideologically they couldn’t be farther apart. Menendez is a Democratic Party loyalist and faithful liberal on everything expect on Cuba issues, while Cruz is a Tea Party backed candidate with hard-line conservative views, particularly on immigration. Rubio, a rising star of the Republican Party, has also expressed hard-line views of immigration, though his stance softened a bit after he was elected two years ago.
Another Latino, Richard Carmona of Arizona, a Democrat, lost his election bid for Senate to Republican Jeff Flake.
The last time there were three Latino U.S. Senators was in 2008, when Mel Martinez, a Republican, served with Ken Salazar, who resigned to become Secretary of Interior, and Menendez.
In the House of Representatives, Latinos made history too, with nine new Hispanics elected Tuesday – bringing the total to 28. The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) calls the 113th Congress the “largest class [of Latinos] in our nation’s history.”
“Latinos played a key role in shaping the nation’s political landscape this year,” Arturo Vargas, executive director of NALEO Educational Fund, said in a statement. “Latinos demonstrated their power as both voters at the ballot box last night, and as congressional candidates that will make history in the 113th Congress.”
Latinos won seats all across the country, with Joaquin Castro of Texas getting the most buzz of the night. Castro, the twin brother of San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who delivered the keynote speech of the Democratic National Convention, is a Harvard-educated lawyer who served for five terms as a state representative. A Democrat, he defeated Republican David Rosa in the 20th District in Texas.
Latinos won new races in California, Texas and New Mexico, and held on to their seats in Florida, Illinois and even Idaho.
New Latino members of Congress include Michelle Lujan Grisham, the first Latina to represent New Mexico in the House of Representatives, and attorney Joe Garcia in Miami, who defeated Republican incumbent David Rivera.
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus said the new face of Congress will help members understand the country’s growing Latino population.
“These new members will bring their experience and leadership to benefit the [Congressional Hispanic Caucus] and will enrich Congress not only with their understanding of the Hispanic community, but with what is needed for our nation,” Chairman Charles A. Gonzalez said in a statement.