What’s one of the surest ways to boost Latino turnout? Field Latino candidates. In one study of voting patterns in five U.S. cities with significant Latino populations, turnout among Latino voters increased by 4 to 15 percent when a Latino candidate was on the ballot.
Across the country, Hispanics from all backgrounds are running for positions on school boards, in governor’s mansions, and on Capitol Hill. A Latina from Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood is vying to be one of the youngest members on the Cook County Board of Commissioners, and a Trinidadian immigrant is running for a seat in the Maryland state legislature. Latinos are running to represent New York’s Hudson Valley, to fill retiring Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s open seat in Wisconsin, for a seat on the Washington State Supreme Court, and for county judgeships in Houston and San Antonio. And the grandson of a Mexican immigrant is on the cusp of pulling off one of the biggest flips of a congressional seat—in West Virginia.
Below, we take stock of some of the most high-profile and highly contested races featuring major-party Latino candidates in the November 6 midterms.
Governors and state official races
In Arizona and New Mexico, the Democratic nominees for governor are both Latino. Almost half of New Mexico’s population is Hispanic, giving it the highest share of any state in the country. In Arizona—the state with the fourth biggest—the rate is 31 percent, though Latinos’ share of the voting population tends to be about 10 points lower. Hillary Clinton won New Mexico by eight points in 2016, while Donald Trump won Arizona by four.
New Mexico’s Michelle Lujan Grisham is a three-term U.S. House representative who currently chairs the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC). That said, she’s no stranger to the governor’s mansion, having served as cabinet secretary for three governors. Lujan Grisham leads her GOP challenger and House colleague Steve Pearce by an average of 7 points in polls, and analysts put her odds of winning at 6 in 7.
Next door in the Grand Canyon State, things are not looking as bullish for David Garcia, a fourth-generation Mexican-American, in his race against incumbent Governor Doug Ducey. After a couple of statements—including saying “imagine … no wall in southern Arizona” and that the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency should be replaced—that didn’t sit well with conservative voters, Garcia trails Ducey by double digits in polls. Seeing the governor’s race as a done deal, the local Democratic party is forgoing media buys for Garcia, opting instead to put funds toward the secretary of state competition.
Meanwhile in Texas, Lupe Valdez, a plucky former Dallas County sheriff and daughter of migrant farm workers, is fielding a quixotic bid to unseat the sitting governor, Greg Abbott. In Nevada, Kate Marshall, whose family immigrated from Mexico a century ago, is vying for lieutenant governor. Nellie Gorbea—a Puerto Rican who four years ago became the first Hispanic to win statewide office in New England—is running for reelection as secretary of state in Rhode Island, and Nelson Araujo, the son of a Salvadoran hotel housekeeper, is going for the same position in Nevada.
The country’s only two current Hispanic governors, Susana Martinez (R-NM) and Brian Sandoval (R-NV), are both retiring this year due to term limits.
Of the four senators, two are up for reelection in 2018. Cuban-American Ted Cruz is fighting a spirited challenge from Beto O’Rourke in Texas. The El Paso representative has pulled within single digits of the incumbent in polls, although FiveThirtyEight still gives the Republican and former presidential hopeful 4 to 5 odds to win in the Lone Star State, which has not elected a Democrat to statewide office in 24 years. Who’s hoping to fill O’Rourke’s House seat in Texas’ sixteenth congressional district? County Judge Veronica Escobar, who is the heavy favorite in her race against Republican Rick Seeberger and independent Ben Mendoza. Texas has never sent a Latina to Capitol Hill.
Meanwhile in New Jersey, Democrat Bob Menendez, also Cuban-American, is sitting a bit more easily with a 10-point lead in polls and 9 to 10 odds in his reelection bid against Republican nominee Bob Hugin, although some polls indicate the race is tightening.
California State Senate leader Kevin De León is running a longshot bid to unseat incumbent U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, a race that, because of California’s distinct primary system, features two Democrats.
U.S. House races
Gil Cisneros is a former Navy officer—and a former Republican—who carved a less-than-traditional path into politics: weeks after losing his job as a shipping manager in 2010, he won a lottery jackpot worth $266 million. He and his wife became philanthropists, focusing on establishing scholarships for Latino students. He faces Republican nominee Young Kim in the open race to replace 13-term GOP Representative Ed Royce, who is retiring. Just over a third of the district’s population is Latino, with a slightly larger share who are Asian-American. The district, which went for Clinton in 2016 and Republican Mitt Romney in 2012, is a toss-up.
The race in Florida’s southernmost congressional district features something rare: Latinos on both sides of the ticket, with two-term Republican Carlos Curbelo in a dead heat with Democratic challenger Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. Curbelo has the unenviable distinction of being the Republican running for reelection in the bluest district, where Clinton won by 16 points. Curbelo has since walked a centrist tightrope: he’s voted with Trump 83 percent of the time, the sixteenth-lowest rate among the House’s 235 GOP members, and was named the fourth-most bipartisan congressperson by one index. He says he didn’t vote for the president in 2016, even comparing him to Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez during the campaign. Curbelo tried unsuccessfully to become the CHC’s lone Republican member in 2017, but his bid was voted down by members, who said they took issue with his resistance to cosponsoring the DREAM Act, his votes in favor of the GOP tax plan and efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and clashes with Lujan Grisham.
Back in Florida, his opponent is focused on those votes against Obamacare. Healthcare is the top concern among Florida voters, followed by jobs, the economy, and gun safety, according to an October poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Mucarsel-Powell immigrated to the United States from Ecuador at age 14, and served as an associate dean at Florida International University College of Medicine.
Curbelo, whose parents emigrated from Cuba in the 1960s, was critical of the Obama administration’s opening of relations with Havana, saying that it “[conferred] legitimacy on military dictatorships,” but has also said he’s for “conditional engagement” and that he hopes Washington can send diplomats back to the island soon. For her part, Mucarsel-Powell backs lifting the U.S. embargo on Cuba only if the regime agrees to concessions including a free press, free elections, and the release of political prisoners.
In the two months since Mucarsel-Powell won her primary, the race has tightened up from “lean Republican” to “toss-up,” according to the Cook Political Report. Mucarsel-Powell raised twice the amount Curbelo did in the third quarter, though he still has a bigger war chest at this point in the campaign.
The race to replace Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in the heart of Miami is just as close. Emmy-winning broadcast journalist Maria Elvira Salazar is running on the GOP ticket against former Bill Clinton cabinet member Donna Shalala. The daughter of Cuban immigrants, Salazar was born in Miami and grew up in Puerto Rico until moving to the mainland at age 16. She spent more than three decades in media, working for Telemundo, Univision, and CNN en Español.
On U.S. policy toward Cuba, Salazar said Trump should “do even more” in an interview with the Miami Herald, though in a comment she tried to keep off the record, she also said the president “should talk to Raúl Castro.” Her platform is wide-ranging and at times unspecific, though she is in favor of immigration reform and a permanent solution for DACA recipients. Polling in the Florida 27 is scant, and the race is considered a toss-up.
Both the Florida 26 and 27 are 70 percent Latino, of whom more than half are Cuban. Some 35 percent of Floridian Latinos statewide voted for Trump in 2016, above the national rate of 29 percent, per exit polls.
Besides Ros-Lehtinen, the only other Republican Latina on Capitol Hill is Jaime Herrera Beutler, who is facing her toughest challenge since she first won the seat in 2010 to represent the working-class southwestern corner of the Evergreen State. Her opponent has raised nearly twice the amount of individual contributions and is within single digits of Herrera Beutler in polls, though FiveThirtyEight still gives the incumbent 3 to 4 odds of holding on to her seat.
- Check out our 2018 Elections Guide.