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Elections Could Put Record Number of Latinos in U.S. House

Election materials are displayed on a table at an October 21, 2014 event regarding the Latino vote. The event was held at the National Press Club.
Election materials are displayed on a table at an October 21, 2014 event regarding the Latino vote. The event was held at the National Press Club. Suzanne Gamboa - NBC News

WASHINGTON -- A record 32 Latinos could hold seats in the U.S. House after this year’s elections, the leader of a national group that tracks Hispanics in public office said Tuesday.

Today there are 28 Latinos in the U.S. House. Two are retiring and being replaced by two other Hispanics. An additional four Latinos are likely to win their elections next month, displacing non-Hispanics, said Arturo Vargas, executive director for the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO).

That increase would occur despite some hand wringing over how much influence Latinos voters have in this year’s midterms and how robust their turnout will be at the polls.

(The U.S. House puts total Hispanic members at 35, but it includes members who identify as Basque and Portuguese, which NALEO does not include in its count.)

Vargas said the power of the Latino vote this election depends on where you look.

Sure, Latino voters can sway only a handful of Senate elections, and the numbers in that upper chamber of Congress will remain three.

But the influence of Latino voters and candidates is having an impact elsewhere, including in states not traditionally known as Latino strongholds, he said.

After November, 13 additional Latinos could hold seats in the lower legislative chambers of states considered to be “emerging communities” for Hispanics, he said.

“There are Latinos running for a state House seat, state Senate seat or a congressional seat in 42 of the 50 states,” Vargas said. “So Latinos have defined themselves now as a national electorate and a national candidate population.”

Image: Arturo Vargas
Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, reviews the prospects for Latino candidates and the potential influence of the Latino vote in the 2014 elections on Oct. 21, at the National Press Club.Suzanne Gamboa / NBC News

Although Latinos number 54 million nationally, about half are eligible to vote because they are at least 18 years old and citizens. During the 2010 midterms, about a third cast ballots. But in states where the Hispanic vote has been strong, the parties are acknowledging its importance, most apparent from the gubernatorial candidates who have chosen Latino running mates.

Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, a Republican, is running with Florida Gov. Rick Scott, also Republican. Annette Taddeo is running with fellow Democrat Charlie Crist, who is challenging Scott. Democrat Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia is running with Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. Evelyn Sanguinetti, a Republican, is running with Republican Bruce Rauner, who is challenging Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn.

In addition, two Latinas are running for lieutenant governor jobs on their own: Democrat Lucy Flores, a member of the Nevada Assembly and Texas Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, also a Democrat.

California Democratic state Sen. Alex Padilla and Democrat Nellie Gorbea of Rhode Island are vying for secretary of state seats and New Mexico Republican Dianna Duran is seeking re-election. If Gorbea is elected, she would be the first Latina elected to any statewide office in all of New England, Vargas said.

Cristobal Alex, president of the Latino Victory Project, said there are eight Latinos who hold statewide office. "If everything goes our way and we turn out" an additional eight from both parties could be elected this year, Alex said.

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