Republicans are poised to add a splash of color to the ranks of its officeholders in November’s elections, challenging the notion that the party is a de facto white guys’ club.
The slate of GOP minority candidates on the ballot this fall includes Hispanics, blacks and Vietnamese-Americans, running strongly in competitive races from Miami Beach to the Denver suburbs to Southern California.
Tim Scott, a black Republican, is rated a near-certain bet to win a House seat in South Carolina, while Marco Rubio leads the race for Florida’s open Senate seat. Two Hispanic Republicans lead in the polls for governor in Nevada and New Mexico, and Indian-American Nikki Haley is poised to win the governorship in South Carolina.
Two other black Republican House candidates are in tight races to unseat Democratic incumbents.
“Our recruitment process is colorblind, but Republicans are fortunate to have a diverse group of candidates that is offering solutions to the job-killing agenda that Democrats have pursued in Washington over the last two years,” said Paul Lindsay, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
The list of minority GOP candidates this year is bigger than in recent years, though Democrats have historically had far more success recruiting minority candidates and attracting minority support - a point driven home by Barack Obama’s historic presidential victory in 2008.
Today, the sole black senator, Roland W. Burris of Illinois, and all 41 black House members are Democrats, according to the Congressional Research Service. The Democratic roster also includes 24 of the 29 Hispanic House members; New Jersey’s Cuban-American Sen. Robert Menendez, the Senate’s only Hispanic member; and the nation’s two black governors - Deval Patrick in Massachusetts and David A. Paterson in New York.
While Democrats point with pride to their diversity and level of minority political support, a small number of those members have caused the party big headaches.
Mr. Paterson, who inherited the job when former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned in disgrace, found little party support in his abortive bid to run for a full term. Reps. Charles B. Rangel of New York and Maxine Waters of California, two of the most senior black Democrats in the House, face charges of ethical wrongdoing.
In Florida, Mr. Rubio, the GOP’s nominee for the state’s open Senate seat, is surging in the polls in his bid to become the second Cuban-American Republican elected to the upper chamber, following in the footsteps of former Sen. Mel Martinez, also from Florida.
In South Carolina, Mr. Scott, a state lawmaker, is a virtual lock to win the seat being vacated by Rep. Henry E. Brown Jr., a Republican who is retiring. The last black Republican in the House was Rep. J.C. Watts Jr., who retired at the end of 2002.
In New Mexico, Susana Martinez, the first Hispanic woman to win a major party gubernatorial nomination, is ahead in her race, while in Nevada, Brian Sandoval, a former U.S. District Court judge, leads in that state’s gubernatorial race.
“As long as they have issue positions similar to the Republican Party, which in these cases they do, it’s a win-win for the party because it defuses the accusation that they are racially insensitive,” said Erick Schickler, a political science professor at the University of California at Berkeley, who added that he thinks a lot of Republicans have an interest in being able to attack President Obama on policy grounds without being accused of having secret racist or religious biases. Having more religious and racial minority candidates in the party helps in that regard.
Some of the other minority stars include California Assemblyman Van Tran, a Vietnamese-American, who is trying to defeat incumbent Rep. Loretta Sanchez in the state’s 47th Congressional District - a seat that was a conservative stronghold until the Democrat won it in 1996 relying in large part on the district’s growing Hispanic population.