The Tea Party Republican electoral triumph resulted in changing the Latino political map. With the exception of Henry Bonilla, a Republican elected to Congress from San Antonio in 1999, it had been almost a century since Latino Republicans had won major contests in states other than Florida. In 2010, they elected two Congressmen in Texas, one in Washington and Idaho and governors in New Mexico and Nevada.
Additionally, they continued to win major contests in Florida. They elected Mel Martinez to the U.S. Senator in 2004. He resigned in 2009, and in 2010 Marcos Rubio was elected to fill Martinez's seat. Latino TPRs also retained control of three Congressional seats, which Cuban Republicans consider their fief. In total, there will be 7 Latino TPRs in Congress and one in the Senate in the 112th Congress.
Republicans have long asserted that Latinos are Republicans, they just don’t know it. Their claim is based on the assumption that Latino cultural values such as strong Christian beliefs and family ties translate into support for the Republican political agenda. Beginning with the Bush campaign of 2000, the Republican Party has pursued the Latino vote. Their efforts yielded little more than a substantial increase in the support Texas Latinos gave President Bush in 2004. Even there, however, he received only 40 percent of the Latino vote.
Do the 2010 results indicate that Republicans have finally broken the Democratic hold on Latino voters? How will they affect Latino-Republican relations? Will they enhance Latino political clout?
Despite the numbers, these results provide little evidence that Republican outreach to Latinos had a substantial impact. Overall, Latinos preferred Democratic candidates by a 2 to 1 margin over Republicans. More noteworthy is the pattern evident in Washington, Idaho and Nevada where Latino TPRs produced victories without winning the Latino vote. In Nevada, Brian Sandoval won the governorship despite getting only 33 percent of the Latino vote. (By comparison, 68 percent of Latinos voted for Harry Reid and helped carried him to victory.) In Washington, Jaime Herrera was elected the state's first Latina Congresswoman in a district that is 7 percent Latino where there was no incumbent.
Texas outcomes resemble this pattern. Bill Flores won in a highly conservative district that is only 20 percent Latino. Clearly, he was not elected by Latino voters. Francisco Canseco was elected from a majority Latino district where Democrats outnumbered Republicans, but had still elected a Latino Republican to Congress from 1999 to 2006. Canseco, thus, may be the only 2010 Latino TPR to have needed some Latino support to win.
Contextualizing the results of the election strongly suggest that Latino TPRs are not proof of Latinos abandoning the Democratic Party for the Republicans. These victors fully embrace the TPR agenda including its law-and-order approach to immigration reform and its opposition to using public funds to generate jobs. Research shows the Latino public strongly disagrees with these key TPR positions.
Nonetheless, these victories may be read to suggest that the TPR is not anti-Latino, even though it is hostile to an immigrant-friendly reform of immigration policy. To the contrary, the TRP tent seems open to admitting Latinos as equals so long as they are ideological soulmates. Few Latinos are likely to seek such cover, but its availability is likely to force Democrats to more fully engage issues like immigration reform that disproportionately affect Latinos.
Failing to do so will cause them to lose credibility among Latinos. Losing votes will not be far behind.
Rodolfo de la Garza, a Columbia University professor of Political Science, has studied immigration, political attitudes and voting for over 30 years. He directed the first national political survey of Latinos and has authored, co-authored and edited 18 books and more than 100 scholarly articles and reports on foreign policy, immigration and political attitudes and behavior.