Its business as usual for candidates with names like Velazquez and Lopez to win major offices in heavily Hispanic Brooklyn, but Tuesdays election showed the growing political clout of Latinos in many parts of the country, with most, but not all, in favor of Democrats.
As candidates, Latinos scored big wins for the Republican cause, sometimes winning for the GOP in states where they relied heavily on the white vote.
Puerto Rican born Raul Labrador, a Mormon, ran in Idahos second district on Tuesday, using his website to tell voters that he has an A rating from the National Rifle Association and reminding them he had a perfect pro-life record as a member of the state legislature.
Although only 10 percent of the states 1.5 million inhabitants are Latinos, Labrador comfortably defeated blue dog Democrat Walt Minnick, winning one of Idahos two seats in the House.
Labrador was one of an unusually large array of Hispanic candidates making a significant contribution to Tuesdays Republican fiesta, with other Latinos winning a governorship in New Mexico, congressional seats in Washington and Colorado and a Senate seat in a high profile three-way race in Florida.
But exit polls suggest that Hispanic voters in New York and in most of the country still overwhelmingly prefer to vote Democrat, with analysts arguing that the Latino vote was crucial to victories in California, Nevada and Colorado that were among the few bright spots for Democrats.
Party identity trumped Latino identity, concluded Gary Segura, of Latino Decisions, which surveyed Hispanic voters in Tuesdays election. The survey showed that the biggest concerns for Latinos in these elections were the economy and jobs, just as for most Americans, but that a third issue, immigration, was of much greater importance.
Latino Decisions conducted exit polling of Hispanic voters in eight swing states, all but two of them in the west.
In Nevada for example, the poll estimated that 90 percent of Hispanics voted for Democrat Harry S. Reid, the Senate majority leader, who was under a strong challenge from Republican assemblywoman Sharron Angle. Since Hispanics make up approximately 12 percent of the Nevada electorate, Latino Decisions Segura argues that Latino support may have made the difference for Reid, who in the end beat Angle by a modest five points.
Hispanics helped ward off an even more serious threat for Democrats in Colorado, where Senator Michael Bennet was in a neck-and-neck race with Republican Ken Buck. Latino Decisions estimates that 82 percent of Hispanics supported Bennet, who eventually held on to his seat by a narrow 1 point margin. Latinos make up approximate 10 percent of voters in Colorado.
Hispanic solidarity appears to have cut in the Republican direction as well. In Florida, Republican Marco Rubio cruised to a 20 point Senate victory, with an estimated 72 percent of the Latino vote. Floridas Latinos are predominantly of Cuban origin, like Rubio, who is known for a conservative stance on immigration. Among Florida Hispanics who are not of Cuban heritage, however, Rubio received only 40 percent of the vote, according to Latino Decisions.
In other races in which Hispanic Republicans were on the ballot, Latinos ignored ethnic solidarity to favor Democrats outright. In New Mexicos governors race, where more than 60 percent of Latino voters are registered as Democrats, the Latino Decision poll estimates that only 38 percent of Latino voters sided with Republican Susana Martinez, the conservative district attorney who became the first Hispanic woman to run that state.
Latino voters turned out to vote for respect, said National Council of La Raza immigration director Clarissa Martinez de Castro, arguing that in western states Arizonas tough immigration laws and conservative-led campaigns against immigrants, motivated Latinos to vote for local Democrats.
Similar sentiments were expressed by Latinos in Brooklyn shortly after the elections.
Ecuadorean born Manuel Almache owns a financial services business in Bushwick, where he has lived for more than 20 years. A U.S. citizen, Almache said he voted for the Democrats on Tuesday because they have always been more plural and more welcoming than Republicans. Almache said he was happy to see new U.S. citizens involved in the political process.
Hispanics overwhelmingly supported Democratic candidates in New York. An estimated 81 percent of Latinos voted for Andrew Cuomo for governor, according to an exit poll commissioned by CNN and other news organizations. The poll data also showed that more than 7 of 10 Latino voters backed the Democratic winners for both of the states Senate seats.
Nieves Padilla, a community organizer for the Brooklyn based organization Make the Road New York says she knocked on more than 300 doors in heavily Hispanic areas of Bushwick over the weekend as part of a non-partisan get-out-the-vote operation.
Originally from the Dominican Republic, Padilla acknowledges that Brooklyn Hispanics are accustomed to vote for Democrats, but warned the party that it should not take their vote for granted. What we did on Tuesday, she explained was to give Obama a vote of confidence, but if he doesnt do anything about immigration or our other issues, who knows what will happen in 2012.
For some evangelical Latinos the Republican stance on gay rights and abortion has its appeal. I think Cuomo is better prepared, said Arcangel Perez, a former gang member turned pastor who runs Noah´s Ark evangelical church in New York. But Paladino was more true to the teachings [of religion], he said, adding that he does not like to talk about politics in his congregation or to make deals with politicians because it breaks up the unity in the church.
The CNN poll, conducted in 26 states by Edison Research, estimated that 64 percent of Latinos voters across the country voted for Democrats in this years House of Representatives races. A second national exit poll, by the Pew Hispanic Center, corroborated the result, showing that 64% of Latinos voted for Democrats in House and Senate races combined.
Latinos are now the nations largest ethnic minority with approximately 14 percent of the total population, and with growing numbers in swing states in the Southwest, the South and the Midwest.
Latinos ought to be a group the Republican Party pays more attention to, says Latino Decisions pollster Gary Segura. Latino Republicans may have won races in several states, he said, but with the exception of Florida, they did so without widespread support from Latino voters.
If their goal is to remain competitive as the demographic changes, the country is undergoing continue to work their way into the electorate, he said, theyre going to have to find a way to actually get voters from other groups in the voting booths.