For the GOP, a prominent Hispanic candidate, Abel Maldonado, California's former lieutenant governor, is one of its best chances to pick off an incumbent. Maldonado is running against endangered Democratic Rep. Lois Capps, who has seen her district turn more conservative with redistricting. Maldonado's campaign ads highlight his background — his parents are Mexican immigrant farmers who eventually built their own farming business — and show him standing in a strawberry field and talking about what he learned from his father.
In one ad, as the camera pans over California farmland, Maldonado says: "It's time to teach Washington the lessons we've learned growing up."
Hispanic candidates are figuring prominently in other states where the Hispanic population has grown quickly.
In New Mexico, Michelle Lujan Grisham is favored to take the state's 1st Congressional District, after Rep. Martin Heinrich decided to run for the Senate. In Nevada, State Assembly Speaker John Oceguera is taking on GOP Rep. Joe Heck in one of the Democrats' top targeted races. If she wins a crowded primary for Arizona's new 9th Congressional District, Leah Campos Schandlbauer, a former CIA agent, could give Republicans a prominent Hispanic on the ballot in what's likely to be a fiercely contested race.
In Florida, which has an August primary, Democrats have two Hispanic candidates — businesswoman Gloria Romero Roses, who was born in Colombia, and lawyer Joe Garcia, a Cuban-American — in the race to take on Republican Rep. David Rivera, a Cuban-American whom Democrats see as vulnerable. Republicans have two prominent Puerto Rican candidates vying to take on former Rep. Alan Grayson in Florida's Orlando-area 9th Congressional District: John "Q'' Quinones, a county commissioner and former state representative, and Melendez, the Iraq War veteran and a member of the local school board. Both are appealing to the district's sizable Hispanic population.
There has been one big disappointment for Hispanic growth in the House in 2012: Texas. It was poised to have the most new Hispanic members, with the state adding four new seats in 2012 thanks to large Hispanic growth. But at most two of the new seats will be represented by Hispanic lawmakers. The state is also losing two long-time Hispanic lawmakers, Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, who is retiring, and Rep. Silvestre Reyes, who lost a primary to a non-Hispanic opponent, though Gonzalez is likely to be replaced by Joaquin Castro, a state lawmaker, Harvard Law graduate and second-generation Mexican-American.
Gonzalez, the chairman of the House Hispanic Caucus, said he still believes Hispanic influence is on the rise in the House, and he noted more Hispanic candidates running in competitive districts in 2012.
"Our power will only increase as time goes on," said Gonzalez. "Because of demographics, as goes the future of the Latino family, so goes the future of the United States."
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