POLITICS

Camp of presidential candidates so far is most diverse ever

L-R: Sen. Ted Cruz; former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; Sen. Rand Paul; Sen. Marco Rubio

L-R: Sen. Ted Cruz; former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; Sen. Rand Paul; Sen. Marco Rubio

Never before has the field of declared candidates for U.S president been as diverse as it is at this point.

In a process that more often than not in U.S. history has involved mostly – if not exclusively -- white men, the group that long has dominated among presidential candidates is in the minority.

Only one of the four declared presidential candidates is a white male, Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky.

The other three are a woman and two Hispanics.

“The diversity, especially on the Republican side, is a reflection of what America is and where America is demographically,” said Matthew Dallek, an assistant professor of politics George Washington University.

The diverse slate, Dallek said, “sends a message to the country and to voters – and to primary voters – about what we are.”

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is, so far, the only declared candidate on the Democratic side. Besides Paul, Republicans who have declared their candidacy are Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, both Cuban-American.

The year 2003 came closest to this year’s most diverse field, particularly among the first four declared candidates – African-Americans Al Sharpton, Carol Moseley Braun, and white males Joe Lieberman and Bob Graham, all Democrats.

“It’s extraordinary,” said Craig Shirley, a presidential historian and author of several books, including “Reagan’s Revolution.” "It’s most certainly the most diverse groups of candidates the Republican party has ever fielded.”

“And to their credit, very few Republicans or conservatives are saying ‘We’ve fielded two Cubans and an African-American.’”

The year 2008 was a true marker in the role of women and minority candidates in U.S. presidential elections. Not only were women and minorities running for the Oval Office, but on the Democratic side, it was a woman, Hillary Clinton, and an African-American, Barack Obama, who were the two leading contenders for much of the primary.

This year, the Republican candidates are striking familiar GOP themes of personal responsibility, limited government, and fiscal conservatism.

Bringing up ethnicity or gender can be tricky. 

If they play it up in any way, they can be accused of engaging in “identity politics” or pandering. If they ignore it or give it scant attention, they risk being accused of distancing themselves.

Several weeks ago, the head of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, upset that Cruz had skipped the group’s annual legislative summit, told reporters that Cruz seemed to be trying to stay away from Latinos in order to pander to his conservative base.

The Cruz campaign said the assertion was baseless, and that Cruz had not gone to the summit because of a scheduling conflict.  

Rubio has stressed his ethnic background – something political observers say can make him relatable to the important Latino electorate – but it also aims to resonate among GOP voters and his conservative base by praising the opportunities that the United States offers, and pushing the concept of raising yourself by the bootstraps.

Ted Cruz has brought up his Cuban-born father, but significantly less so than Rubio.  

Hillary Clinton often avoided stressing her gender when she ran for the Democratic nomination in the primary in 2008, sticking to the perception among some on her campaign then that it could hurt her. This time around, however, she is embracing it and plans to emphasize it as her campaign develops.

The presidential candidate field is likely to draw more women and minorities in the weeks ahead.
Republican Ben Carson, an African American physician, is going to announce whether he will run for president on May 4 in his hometown of Detroit.

Another Republican, Carly Fiorina, the former chief executive of Hewlitt-Packard, is said to be considering a run for president.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is considered an honorary Latino, of sorts. He is married to a Mexican-American, Columba, spent time living in Latin America and speaks fluent Spanish.

“Jeb Bush as a nominee might do better among Latinos than Marco Rubio,” said Dallek, given moderate views on such things as immigration that are more in line with the majority of Latino voters.

“Even his persective,” said Dallek, in general may resonate more with Latinos nationwide, the majority of whom are of Mexican descent.

“Ted Cruz’s and Marco Rubio’s perspectives are Cuban” to a large extent, Dallek said, “Jeb Bush’s is Mexican.”

But the historic diversity of this year’s presidential candidates – and their strong credentials – is not mirrored in elections at the state and local levels, or even in races for Congress.

Women, for instance, comprise roughly 20 percent of Congress, though they’re slightly more than 50 percent of the U.S. population.

“The diversity in the presidential campaigns is a positive sign and a welcome development, but it has not trickled down,” Dallek said. “There’s still an incredible lack of diversity in Congress and in representation at the state level.”

Fox News researcher Mark Rigby contributed to this report.

Elizabeth Llorente is Senior Reporter for FoxNews.com, and can be reached at Elizabeth.Llorente@Foxnews.com. Follow her on Twitter @Liz_Llorente.