Preliminary results from the 2002 mid-term election show important gains for Latino elected officials and provide further evidence that the Latino community is an independent, issue-driven, and increasingly important segment of the electorate. NCLR will be releasing a more detailed analysis of the election results at a news conference November 14.
"We are gratified to have our first Latino governor in nearly 20 years with the election of Bill Richardson in New Mexico. Moreover, Latinos will now have at least 23 members in the U.S. House of Representatives, the highest total ever in U.S. history. From the statehouse to the school board, Latinos made gains at all levels of government," stated Raul Yzaguirre, NCLR President.
"Like the rest of the country, we are still awaiting release of exit poll data, particularly on Latino voters. However, our preliminary analysis confirmed what NCLR's recent report, Mobilizing the Latino Vote, and other polls have shown: that Latinos vote based on a candidate's record and on issues, not on party affiliation," noted Yzaguirre.
As evidence of this trend, Yzaguirre pointed to results in several key states:
Colorado - Based on entrance polls, a majority of Latino voters supported Democratic Senatorial candidate Tom Strickland but also gave support to Republican Governor Bill Owens. Latinos also overwhelmingly opposed Proposition 31, the antibilingual education initiative, and helped ensure its defeat.
Florida - Republican Governor Jeb Bush won a majority of the Latino vote in the state but Latinos also supported Amendment 9 to reduce class sizes in the state, an initiative Governor Bush strongly opposed.
"We are hopeful as well that the 2002 election provided the death knell to immigrant-bashing electioneering since its heyday in the mid-1990s. Prominent anti-immigrant candidates, such as George Gekas (R-PA), Chairman of the House Immigration Subcommittee and one of Congress' leading anti-immigrant voices, and Iowa Senatorial candidate Greg Ganske, went down to defeat.
Conversely, several candidates who conducted extensive outreach to the Latino community, particularly in the Republican party, reaped significant Latino support including Governor Bush in Florida, Governor George Pataki in New York, and Governor Tom Vilsack in Iowa, who were all re-elected," Yzaguirre said.
"But the elections also provided proof that outreach alone cannot sustain long-term support in the community. The hemorrhaging of Latino support for Democratic Governor Gray Davis in California, who was perceived by many as indifferent at best to Latino concerns, helped lead to his unexpectedly thin margin of victory.
And Rep. Henry Bonilla (R-TX) had an unexpectedly strong challenge from a candidate whose positions on issues more closely mirrors those of Hispanics in that district. It is clear that the novelty of outreach alone eventually wears off if is not followed up by action," continued Yzaguirre.
"With a closely divided electorate, nurturing new and growing electorates such as the Hispanic community is an essential strategy for both parties. Political parties and candidates interested in long-term viability need to establish ties with these communities and make a concerted effort to understand their issues," asserted Yzaguirre.
"And regardless of which party prevails, the most important thing is that we work to maintain and strengthen our democratic process. A key element of that work is for Latinos to have a voice in the political process, and NCLR believes that the increase in nonpartisan efforts aimed at incorporating Latinos into the process is a positive development. That is why NCLR has joined forces with the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) and a variety of community-based organizations around the country to lay the groundwork for the long-term participation of Latinos in our civic and electoral life," concluded Yzaguirre.