POLITICS

The New Face of Latino Politics: the Republican Candidate?

FILE - In this April 5, 2005 file photo, then-Nevada Attorney General Brian Sandoval testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Linda Spillers, File)

FILE - In this April 5, 2005 file photo, then-Nevada Attorney General Brian Sandoval testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Linda Spillers, File)  (AP2005)

Voters hoping to elect a new Democratic Latino governor or senator next week may come away disappointed.

That's because, despite the fact that 65 percent of all registered Latinos are Democrats, there are no Democrats challenging for those coveted positions.

The only Latino challengers you'll see in New Mexico, Nevada and Florida are gubernatorial candidates Susana Martínez and Brian Sandoval, and senatorial hopeful Marco Rubio, respectively.

And they're all conservative Republicans.

"The Latino community does not belong to one party," said Gloria Montaño Greene, director of Washington, D.C., office of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. 

But for years, rightly or wrongly, the perception was that it did. As recently as 2008, 67 percent of Hispanics voted for Barack Obama, arguably carrying him to the presidency. Only 31 percent of the bloc voted for his Republican opponent, Arizona Senator John McCain.

In next week's midterm election, though, that same Latino voter will increasingly be pulling the lever for one of his or her own just from a different party.

For House seats, too, there are seven Republican challengers compared to one Democrat, Henry Yanez, a long shot in Michigan's 10th congressional district.

Sylvia Manzano, assistant professor at Texas A&M University's department of political science, said the Republican party has been better than the Democrats in cultivating Latino candidates.

"They understand they had to dehorn the devil, if you will," she said. "There were perceptions, fairly or not, that the Republicans were the anti-Latino party.

"One of the ways to mute that is run viable Latino candidates," she added. "There are efforts going on to recruit and support Latino candidates. I'm not sure that the Democrats have been as aggressive."

Alci Maldonado, national chairman of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly, said that there hasn't been a shift at all. The party has courted Latinos for years, she said, citing the foundation of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly.

"The Republican Party gave the Hispanic Americans a voice back when we were not even the targeted group," she said in a statement.

The Democratic Party, however, has been laying the groundwork for Latino candidates for decades, some experts said. There are 20 Latino Democrats in the House, for instance, compared to only three Republicans.

And the lone Latino senator in Congress, Sen. Robert Menéndez, is a Democrat.

"Hispanics, at least in terms of elected officials, have been historically underrepresented in Congress. And yet, the Democrats have historically been the party that has cultivated the vast majority of elected officials," said Adam J. Segal, founder and director of the Hispanic Voter Project at John Hopkins University.

The Hispanic swing vote and candidate representation has shift in cycles over the last 20 to 30 years, he said. Either way, the parties would be inclined to invest more in Latinos.

"Both parties could do a better job," Segal, who is also a faculty lecturer in the Master's in Communication program at the university, added. "[They] should continue to invest in those efforts to ensure that parties both represent the country, and that means diversity in the ranks of the leadership of the elected officials."