Latinas are poised to hit a new high in Congress — but not from any GOP 'red wave'

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Eight Democrat and four Republican Latinas are already projected to win seats in the House.

Originally published by The 19th

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The next Congress seems likely to include a record number of Latina lawmakers, but that won’t be fueled by the much-hyped “red wave” of GOP Latinas.

Eight Democrat and four Republican Latinas are already projected to win seats in the House. It’s too early to project the winners of an additional eight races featuring Latina candidates, but as of midday Wednesday, all but two of those candidates were leading against their opponents. The current record of Latina women in Congress is 15.

Which party will control the House in the next Congress is unclear. For Republicans, a number of Latina candidates they hoped would flip or hold seats fell short: Just one of a so-called “triple threat” of Latina candidates won in the Rio Grande Valley and another fell short in a heated Virginia contest. Instead, the night pushed the first GOP Latina to represent Texas in Congress, Rep. Mayra Flores, out of Texas’ 34th District. Flores won a special election in June but fell to fellow Rep. Vicente Gonzalez. The two ran in the same district due to redistricting. Republican Cassy Garcia fell short in her challenge of longtime Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar. And in Virginia, Republican Yesli Vega, who took a strong anti-abortion stance, lost her challenge to Rep. Abigail Spanberger, who was part of a wave of women candidates who first won in 2018.

Republicans ran their largest slate of Latina candidates ever, aiming to grow their federal power by wooing Latinx voters, who continue to strongly favor Democrats. They found victory in Texas with Monica De La Cruz, who flipped Texas’ 15th District on a platform focused on the border. In Florida, two GOP Latinas, Anna Paulina Luna and incumbent Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar, helped fuel a GOP wave there, running on the economy, “far-left” repudiation and, in the case of Luna, false claims of election fraud and opposition to abortion.

A majority of Latinas in Congress will continue to be Democrats. Delia Ramirez, a Guatemalan American who centered abortion rights in her campaign, is projected to become the first Latina to represent Illinois in Congress. In Colorado, Yadira Caraveo is projected to win a new district and become that state’s first Latina member of Congress. It’s not yet clear if the Democratic caucus will break its record for the most Latinas serving in the House — 11 — set in 2021.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, the Democrat from Nevada, is the only Latina in the Senate; results in her heated reelection race are still pending.

Latinas, who make up more than 9 percent of the country’s population, remain underrepresented across all levels of elected office. Latinas make up less than 3 percent of elected officials in state and federal offices, according to an October report from the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) and Latinas Represent.

Still, a record-breaking number of Latina or Hispanic women – 36 – were major-party nominees for the House in 2022, the center reported. Twenty candidates were Democratic nominees, up from the previous record of 19, set in 2020. Sixteen candidates were Republican nominees, a significant increase from the previous record of 13, set in 2020.

“One of the things I felt didn’t get as much attention throughout the cycle was that we did have a record level of Latina nominees for the House. That was not the case for women of every demographic group,” said Kelly Dittmar, research director at CAWP.

Heading into the midterms, Republicans had hoped to expand on recent gains among Hispanic voters, in part by promoting their large slate of Latina candidates. "This year is going to be the year of the Latina Republican," Rep. Elise Stefanik, a Republican from New York, told the Washington Examiner last week.

Overall, however, that more diverse slate of candidates did not deliver the Democratic repudiation that Republicans were anticipating and that historic trends would suggest.

“The RED WAVE did not happen. Republicans and Independents stayed home. DO NOT COMPLAIN ABOUT THE RESULTS IF YOU DID NOT DO YOUR PART!” Flores tweeted just after midnight Wednesday.

Stefanik’s political action committee, Elevate PAC, which funds women Republican candidates, including Flores and Luna, did not respond to a request for comment.

It was a different tune in South Florida. “This election proves what Ronald Reagan famously said, that Latinos are Republicans, they just don’t know it,” said Salazar at her Little Havana reelection party. Salazar flipped her district red in 2020 and beat fellow Latina Annette Taddeo, a Democrat, this year.

Progressive Latino groups were celebratory in a Wednesday press call, arguing that early election results suggested Latinx voters are not enticed by “MAGA extremism” or antiabortion positions, regardless of the candidate.

“As we were leading up to Election Day, the question was, is Roe on the ballot for Latinos. I think we saw it was,” said Yvonne Gutierrez, the managing director of Latino Victory, a progressive group that supports Latino candidates. She acknowledged losses for her party in Florida, including Taddeo, a Colombian American. She said that Democrats can do “a better job” engaging segments of the Latinx vote in Florida.

“Every community needs to be communicated with in a way that speaks to their lived experience,” she told The 19th.

Kenny Sandoval, a campaign strategist with Voto Latino, which mobilizes Latinx voters for Democratic candidates, said that the Rio Grande Valley will continue to be a battleground for Hispanic support. Sandoval pointed to Flores’ win in the special election, then loss under newly drawn lines, in a race in which she echoed former President Donald Trump’s position on the border and social issues.

“In Texas, a congresswoman won with old district lines and lost with outdated ideas of what her community wanted,” he said. “Bottom line, their values are at odds with the values of the communities they are trying to engage. [The] GOP will continue investing in South Texas because they know Texas is within reach for Democrats, and they will fight that change any way they can. We're ready for that fight.”