With the 2014 elections upon us, political campaigns are making last-ditch efforts to win over voters as they prepare to head to the ballot. This year’s races feature a number of Latino candidates – both incumbents and upstarts – who could help to decide the next trend in American politics. Here, Fox News Latino breaks down the key races to watch.
7th Congressional District: Ruben Gallego (D) vs. José Peñalosa (I)
With no Republican in the race and a Libertarian opponent with little campaign cash or name recognition, Gallego was considered a shoe-in for retiring Rep. Ed Pastor's seat. The frustration among many Latinos over immigration inaction by both Congress and President Obama, however, could persuade many to sit out the elections. Peñalosa is arguing that that inaction is exactly why they need to vote – for someone who is an Independent. "This election is not over, and Ruben Gallego should not take voters for granted," he said last month.
Governor: Jerry Brown (D) vs. Neel Kashkari (R)
As Election Day approaches, Brown, the incumbent, enjoys a solid lead over his Republican challenger, a former U.S. Treasury official. Brown is riding a wave of kudos over ending the long-standing state deficit and making a surplus the new normal. It meant raising taxes and targeting loopholes that benefited business, however. Brown has a relatively good relationship with California’s Latinos, many of whom link the GOP to former Gov. Pete Wilson’s efforts in the 1990s to crack down on undocumented immigrants through Proposition 187, an initiative that called for denying health care, education and other services. Kashkari has played up his Indian roots in his campaign, portraying himself as an immigrant and someone who is more representative of California than Brown, whom he depicts as privileged. (Brown’s father was also governor.)
21st Congressional District: David Valadao (R) vs. Amanda Renteria (D)
The district tends to alternate between parties. In 2012, it split, going to President Obama and Valadao. To be re-elected, Valadao will have to once again overcome demographics: Democrats account for nearly 75 percent of registered voters in the Hispanic-dominated district. The Central Valley is dubbed the “bread basket” of the state and country, but it finds itself in the middle of one of the most devastating droughts in history. Both are pushing water measures: Renteria, a $2.7 billion water bond that would provide storage for water and fund projects transferring water from Northern California; Valadao introduced the Water Delivery Act, which passed the House and would “preserve hundreds of billions of gallons of water being flushed into the ocean.”
Senate: Mark Udall (D) vs. Cory Gardner (R)
The incumbent Udall is going all-out to court Latinos as he battles challenger Gardner. Udall launched a million-dollar round of Spanish-language television ads that are running through Election Day. Colorado has emerged as ground zero for the fight between Republicans and Democrats for control of the U.S. Senate. Udall has had Bill Clinton, Michelle Obama, and Mass. Sen. Elizabeth Warren campaign for him, while former Fla. Gov. Jeb Bush and N.J. Gov. Chris Christie have stumped for Gardner. Republicans need to pick up six additional seats in November to win control of the Senate from Democrats. The latest polls for Colorado’s race show Gardner leading Udall by a couple of points within the margins of error.
Governor: Rick Scott (R) vs. Charlie Crist (D)
With the incumbent Scott and former governor Crist virtually deadlocked in the polls, Hispanic voters in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties, as well as the crucial I-4 corridor in central Florida, could determine who wins. That’s why both candidates picked Hispanic running mates for lieutenant governor, according to party leaders. Scott made Cuban-American Carlos Lopez-Cantera the first Hispanic lieutenant governor in state history. Countering Scott’s selection, Crist announced in July that Miami-Dade Democratic Party chief and state party vice-chairwoman, Annette Taddeo-Goldstein, whose mother is Colombian, would be his running mate.
26th Congressional District: Joe García (D) vs. Carlos Curbelo (R)
Incumbent García and challenger Curbelo insist they are running on the issues affecting the 850,000 residents in their South Florida district, but the ongoing back-and-forth over which one is more corrupt has not been exactly edifying. Not only has this been one of the most bruising political match-ups of the year, it's also been one of the longest: Curbelo, a Miami-Dade School Board-member, announced in July of last year that he would run, and he has focused on the criminal investigations against García’s former chief of staff and ex-campaign manager, Jeff Garcia (no relation). Last year, Jeff Garcia pleaded guilty to ballot fraud and served 65 days in jail. Rep. García and Democratic operatives have countered that in 2009, Curbelo - who earns a living as a political consultant and lobbyist - improperly transferred ownership of his company, Capitol Gains, to his wife.
Michelle Nunn (D) vs. David Perdue (R)
With more than 9 percent of the Georgia population identifying themselves as Hispanic or Latino, the Senate race between former non-profit executive Michelle Nunn, a Democrat, and American businessman David Perdue, a Republican, is now more influenced by Hispanics than ever before. It is one of the races where political analysts and members of the Latino community have noted that the percentage of Latino voters in the state could make a game-changing difference. While both candidates have ideological differences on immigration, both are calling for “a more secure border” and are vague on how to carry out the state’s strict immigration law. Nunn believes “we need comprehensive immigration reform that secures our borders and provides an accountable pathway to citizenship that requires those currently living here go to the back of the line, pass a background check, learn English, and pay back taxes,” her website page says. Perdue places more of a focus on securing the border, saying on his website page “the debate in Washington over illegal immigration has become unnecessarily complicated…simply put, we need to strictly enforce current laws and any new laws should be straightforward, focusing on true border security.”
Brian Sandoval (R) vs. Bob Goodman (D)
Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval is heading into November’s midterm election with such strong polling numbers and popularity that the Democratic Party did not even bother to put up a serious challenger. Bob Goodman, who was former Gov. Mike O’Callaghan’s director of economic development in the 1970s, is the party's official candidate, though polls show him trailing the governor by double digits. Goodman won the Democratic primary with 25 percent of the vote, five points behind the "None of These Candidates" option that appears on Nevada ballots; Sandoval clinched the GOP one with 90 percent. Goodman knows a victory at this point seems like a pipe dream but says he is running for the sake of democracy.
Marilinda Garcia (R) vs. Annie Kuster (D)
The New Hampshire 2nd Congressional District race pits a conservative rising star with the strong backing of national Republicans against a Democratic stalwart in this New England state. In a recent debate, Republican Marilinda Garcia criticized Democratic incumbent Annie Kuster for not holding town hall meetings, and accused her of putting President Barack Obama's agenda ahead of constituent concerns. Kuster responded that she meets with constituents every day, visiting businesses and hosting round table discussions. She described helping farmers win changes to proposed food safety regulations, and argued it's Garcia who has ignored constituents by missing about a third of the votes during her time in the state Legislature. The candidates also tangled over a Kuster campaign ad that says Garcia wants to abolish the federal Department of Education and supports banning abortion. In 2008, she voted for a bill that would have made it a felony for anyone to perform an abortion "when there is a reasonable expectation that the fetus would be viable if delivered."
Susana Martinez (R) vs. Gary King (D)
For Republicans, 40 percent is the magic threshold. That is the share of Latino votes, the theory goes, that a Republican presidential candidate should get to significantly bolster the chance of a victory. New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, the nation’s first female Hispanic governor, has proven that she is in that small circle of Republicans with a national profile who can generate such a level of support among Latino voters. Martinez is running for re-election against New Mexico Attorney General Gary King, a Democrat whose father served as governor in the state. A recent poll in the Albuquerque Journal showed Martinez, who is seeking a second term, getting 40 percent of Latinos who indicated they planned to vote. King, a two-term attorney general, would get 50 percent of the vote. The others say they’re undecided. Latinos comprise 47 percent of New Mexico’s total population.
Kay Hagan (D) vs. Thom Tillis (R)
Latinos in North Carolina might become the determining factor in deciding who wins North Carolina’s Senate race. Thom Tillis, a Republican businessman who is the state speaker of the House, and Democratic incumbent Senator Kay Hagan are battling in a state where Hispanics are 9 percent of the population – having more voting power than ever before. Tillis’ campaign website says the former speaker believes in doing more to secure our borders and opposes amnesty. Hagan, on the other hand, voted in support of the Senate’s Gang of Eight bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) bill in 2013. With nearly 900,000 Latinos living in North Carolina’s population of about 10 million, some Hispanics are skeptical but hopeful about how their community will influence the Senate election.
Greg Abbott (R) vs. Wendy Davis (D)
Current Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott faces a tough sell beyond the demographics. Divisive Republican measures he's backed have been viewed as hostile toward Hispanics and particularly felt on the southern Texas border. Abbott, who is married to a Mexican-American, also has supported the deployment of 1,000 National Guard troops along the border to block illegal immigration, which Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto called "reprehensible." He's also fighting in court to uphold a new state law that forced the closure of the only abortion clinic in 300 miles. But Abbott is getting help. The Republican National Committee has been dumping $50,000 a month into Texas to recruit Hispanic voters, who went for President Barack Obama more than 2-to-1 two years ago.
Pete Gallego (D) vs. Will Hurd (R)
They call it the only true competitive race in Texas in this year’s election. It’s the state’s 23rd congressional district, where no party really ever has a lock on voters. First-term, incumbent Democrat Rep. Pete Gallego is fighting to hold on to his seat, which he won in 2012 by beating then-incumbent congressional freshman Quico Canseco, a Republican. His challenger is former CIA operative Will Hurd, who won a competitive primary and is getting strong support from national Republican and conservative groups. GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney beat President Barack Obama in this district in 2012, 51-48 percent. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a Tea Party Republican, also came out the winner in this district. And so, Gallego, who is 52, said he is pushing hard to win re-election in this vast district, which spans more than 800 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border and includes about a quarter of the land area of Texas. Roughly 70 percent of the district’s population is Latino – something that, clearly, has not guaranteed a Democratic victory.
George P. Bush (R) vs. John Cook (D)
George P. Bush, the 38-year-old scion of the country's most enduring political dynasty, is running for the post of Texas land commissioner and is widely expected to win by a large margin. Unlike his rival, Democrat John Cook, a 68-year-old who served on the El Paso City Council for three terms and as mayor for two terms, Bush has never before held a political office. The job of land commissioner is said to be one of the most powerful in Texas and has proven to be a stepping stone to bigger and better positions. If Bush wins, he would be continuing a family tradition. His father, Jeb, was governor of Florida and is widely expected to run for president in 2016; his uncle, George W., was Texas governor and U.S. president; his grandfather, George H.W., was CIA director, vice-president under Ronald Reagan and then president himself; and his great-grandfather, Prescott, was a U.S. senator.
Alex Mooney (R) vs. Nick Casey (D)
West Virginia could soon see its first ever Latino congressional representative. His name is Alex Mooney and his mother is from Cuba. If he were to win this race – which at the moment is viewed as a toss-up – Mooney, a conservative Republican running against Nick Casey, a former chairman of the West Virginia Democratic Party, would make history in a state that has the distinction of having the smallest percentage of Latinos in the entire nation. Latinos make up just 1.2 percent – or slightly more than 22,268 – of the Eastern Panhandle state's population.