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Election could add Latinos to U.S. Senate, Congress, state houses

"We projected in 2016 that there would be five more Latinos in Congress, and now we are projecting six more," said NALEO's Arturo Vargas.
Image: Capitol building
The U.S. Capitol building in Washington.Patrick Semansky / AP file

New Mexico is in position to add another Latino to the U.S. Senate, bringing the total to five, as well as put another Latina in Congress, while there also could be a net increase of Latinos in state legislative chambers as a result of the Nov. 3 elections, a Latino group’s analysis shows.

Rep. Ben Ray Luján, a Democrat, is giving up his seat in the U.S. House to run for the Senate and has led in the polls for much of his campaign against Republican Mark Ronchetti, a television meteorologist. The winner succeeds Sen. Tom Udall, a Democrat who is retiring.

Teresa Leger Fernandez, a Democrat, could give New Mexico a delegation that is all female — two Latinas, one Native American — if her lead in the polls holds and she defeats Republican Alexis Johnson, who also is Latina, to succeed Luján and Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, a Democrat defeats Republican challenger Yvette Herrell a second time. Leger Fernandez would be the first Latina to represent New Mexico's 3rd Congressional District, which is considered a safe Democratic district.

Should the Latinas prevail, as well as other Latino candidates, some in tough races, the number of Latinos in the Congress could rise from 39 to 45, according to the analysis by National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund

"We are making progress," said Arturo Vargas, NALEO's executive director.

The new Latino faces in Congress could include Christina Hale, a Cuban American and a Democrat who would be the first Latina to represent Indiana in Congress. On the Republican side, Tony Gonzales is in a close race with Gina Ortiz Jones, who is of Filipino descent, in Texas' 23rd Congressional District.

Despite the possibility of more Latinos in the 435-member House, Hispanics continue to be underrepresented. The U.S. population is 18.5 percent Hispanic. To match the population share, the number of Hispanics in the House would have to be more than twice the current number.

Vargas called the Senate, which now has four Latinos, "one of the least representative bodies in terms of reflecting the U.S. population."

At the state level, Latinos are seeking statewide office in 36 states, according to the NALEO analysis. Those include Mayor Anna Tovar of Tolleson, Arizona, a Democrat, who could win a seat on the Arizona Corporation Commission, which regulates nonmunicipal utilities and oversees business incorporations, securities and railroad and pipeline safety.

Texas stands to see the largest potential increase in the number of Latino legislators in its lower chamber; it could go to seven, although several are in close races.

Democrats need to win nine seats in Texas to take control of the state House, and some Latinos are among the candidates who could flip a seat, including Natali Hurtado, who faces incumbent Republican state Rep. Sam Harless in a Houston-area district.

In Arizona, Democrats need a net gain of two seats to be the majority in the state House, which could put a Latina, Charlene Fernandez of Yuma, at the helm as speaker.

“The emergence of new presidential battleground states with large Latino populations is establishing the community as a chief critical component to an electoral victory, affecting races up and down the ballot,” Vargas said in a news release.

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