With the first presidential debate in the books and partisan speculation rampant over who will prevail in the presidential race, there will be a new reality facing America on the morning after Election Day that you can take to the bank. The 113th Congress will convene with more Latino members than ever before including as many as a dozen new Latino members.
Without a doubt, the 2012 class of Latino candidates is the strongest ever assembled and will result in a significant addition to Latinos in Congress come January. These top twelve non-incumbent Latino candidates come from six states – eleven of them Democrats and one Republican. Even more importantly, these Latino candidates are a harbinger not only of the demographic changes currently taking place in America, but also the exponential growth on the way.
The recently released Census numbers documented the expansion of the Latino community and set expectations to become an even larger portion of the nation’s landscape. By June of last year, Latinos accounted for nearly 17 percent of the nation’s total population at over 52 million and making them the largest minority group in the country. This increase in population is translating to political representation as the current class of candidates shows.
As a prediction, there will be at least eight winners among these twelve Latino candidates with four of them on the bubble to securing a seat in Congress. The sole Republican in this class, Ted Cruz, is expected to handily defeat his Democratic opponent for the vacant Senate seat in Texas. With his election, Mr. Cruz will grow the number of Latinos in the Senate by one and double the number of Latino Republicans in the upper chamber when he joins Senator Marco Rubio (FL).
Interestingly, if Cruz is successful, this will mean all three Latino members of the Senate will be of Cuban descent that includes Democrat Bob Menendez (NJ). Almost 2 million Cuban Americans make up over 3 percent of the general population and nearly the same percentage within the Latino community in the U.S. Yet, they are clearly over-indexing their representation of Latinos in the Senate – an achievement of parity that the Cuban-American community can certainly celebrate.
Also, in the Senate, former Surgeon General Richard Carmona is on the bubble in the hotly contested Arizona race. A Latino victory would have important repercussions throughout the state that has been the source of too much anti-Latino and anti-immigrant sentiment of late.
For Latino Democrats in the House of Representatives, this is their year. While some conservative estimates have the Congressional Hispanic Caucus – comprised of twenty Democratic Representatives, three of whom are retiring or faced a primary defeat – only seeing five freshmen join their ranks, Latinos are positioned to move the group up to 24 and possibly 28 total members.
The candidates most likely to win their House seats in November include Tony Cardenas and Juan Vargas in California, Joe Garcia in Florida, Michelle Lujan Grisham in New Mexico, and in Texas, Joaquin Castro, Pete Gallego and Filemon Vela.
Of course, some of these candidates, such as Gallego, Vela and Garcia, have a more competitive road ahead of them than others but their races are currently leaning in their favor. Three other candidates are in tight races that are too close to call including John Oceguera in Nevada as well as Jose Hernandez and Raul Ruiz in California – however, all are viable and could possibly be sworn into the next Congress as well.
Each of these twelve candidates has a powerful personal story – Astronaut, U.S. Surgeon General, emergency room physician and more. Each story shares common values and themes of family, community and of overcoming obstacles to reach success – immigrants, migrant farm workers, disadvantaged yet never giving up their fight for the American dream – a better education and a better life for themselves and their families.
Collectively, they are the story of America and the dream of becoming part of something bigger than what you thought was possible. Whatever the final tally, these candidacies represent what is right with American and the opportunities that are uniquely available in our country.
For Latinos, we surely will be better represented on the issues we care about – education, immigration, wealth building and small business empowerment, and increasing Latino leadership across all sectors. For the nation, the implications can only be positive because as Latino success goes so goes American prosperity.
I predict that as America rouses after Election Day, it will awake to news of not only the reelection of President Obama due in large measure to the overwhelming support of the Latino vote, but also news of a record high number of Latinos elected to Congress driven by the largest Latino voter turnout in history. This is good for Latinos in America but more importantly good for all Americans, in this wonderful land of opportunity.
Mickey Ibarra is President of the Ibarra Strategy Group, a government relations and public affairs firm based in Washington, D.C. He is the founder and chairman of the Latino Leaders Network, a non-profit organization dedicated to “bringing leaders together”, to establish relationships and dialogue on issues important to the Latino community. In addition, Mr. Ibarra is a board member of MALDEF and the Ibarra Foundation. He served as the Assistant to the President and Director of Intergovernmental Affairs at the White House for President Clinton; 1997-2001.