In the governors’ races: Republican Nikki Haley became the first woman ever elected to statewide office in South Carolina from either party, and the first Indian-American to become governor-elect of that state. Susana Martinez became the nation’s first female Hispanic governor from either party, and GOP winner Brian Sandoval became Nevada’s first Hispanic governor ever.
In the House: Allen West beat a two-term Democrat to become the first African-American Republican elected in Florida since a freed slave served two terms in the 1870s. Tim Scott of South Carolina defeated Strom Thurmond’s son to become the first African-American elected from either party in that state since Reconstruction. In Texas, Bill Flores defeated Democratic 20-year incumbent Chet Edwards, Francisco Canseco defeated Democrat Ciro Rodriguez, and Jaime Herrera became the first Latino ever elected to Congress from Washington state.
Why did so many minorities run this year? It was Rubio, actually, who explained their motivation on election night, just after he said that it would be a mistake to think this election was an embrace of Republicanism--an important point, after which most of the networks cut away from the speech--but then came the best part:
Our nation is headed in the wrong direction and both parties are to blame ... What Americans are looking for desperately are people who will go to Washington, D.C. and stand up to this agenda which is taking us in the wrong direction and offer a clear and genuine alternative ...
I’ve been raised in a community of exiles, a people who lost their country, a people who know what it’s like to live somewhere else--by the way, a community that I am proud to be a part of--a community of men and women who were once my age. When they were, they had dreams like we have now, and yet they lost all those things through an accident of history. So they came here to try to rebuild their lives, and some did. But many others could not. And so it became the purpose of their life to leave their children with the opportunities they themselves did not have. This is the story of the Cuban exile community and it defines what so many of us who are a product of it are.
This is not exclusive to us ... All across this country there are people working hard to ensure that their children will have a better opportunity in this life than they have had themselves ... It is what we are fighting to preserve and protect for the generations to come. It’s what this election has been about for me.
As the son of a Kmart clerk and a bartender, Rubio’s story touches people from all walks of life, and it especially speaks to other sons and daughters of immigrants who, like him, decided to step forward and run for office this year out of concern for the future of his children in the face of massive deficits. Many of these candidates spoke forcefully about fiscal responsibility and limited government and won support across the board. And while the Republican Party has a long way to go in terms of minority recruitment--there are now no African-Americans in the Senate from either party, and only one African-American governor, a Democrat--this year’s trend is certainly a good one.
These candidates did not run simply because of their background or heritage, they ran because they want to get the country back on the right course. And the fact that they won--many in all-white districts--shows that race is becoming less and less of an issue with voters. That could be because of Barack Obama and Michael Steele, but it could also be because we’ve all come to realize that there are many things in life far more important than the color of one’s skin. In fact, that may be why this story isn’t getting much attention.