Hispanic voters largely stuck to historical partisan trends in 2022, despite a narrative of a rightward shift among Latinos that could propel a Republican wave election.
Democrats largely outperformed Republicans in heavily Hispanic districts around the country, with the exception of Florida, a state that for decades was a GOP Hispanic stronghold.
The partisan split and the influence of Latino voters on a series of key elections underscored the importance of a Hispanic electorate once derided as a “sleeping giant.”
“From now on two things are true: Nobody can ever talk about a fucking sleeping giant. Because in Florida last night for the Republicans, and then in the rest of the nation for the Democrats, Latinos made a huge fucking difference in all of these races” said Chuck Rocha, a Democratic political operative who ran Latino outreach for Democrats in Pennsylvania.
“And the second thing is, it shows when Democrats woke up after the 2020 election, and started doing a better job – at least throwing a lot of money and resources at a lot of districts and states – it proved to work,” added Rocha.
In Texas, for example, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke, who lost his election, won the 93 percent Hispanic Hidalgo County with a 60-40 split, roughly the numbers Hispanic advocates expected to see there.
Throughout the country, but particularly in the West, Hispanic voters largely put down narratives of a rightward shift, with Democratic candidates in Hispanic districts largely doing well.
“We’ve seen these all these articles, all these narratives, I mean, the post mortems were written before [Tuesday],” said Victoria McGroary, the executive director of Bold PAC, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) campaign arm.
“Like ‘the rise of the Latina conservative,’ right, all of this? And yeah, over at Bold PAC and Latino groups on the ground, all of us who have been doing this work, invested in their communities for so long, have been like, ‘no, no, no, we gotta run through the tape,” she added.
In large part, the lack of a rightward shift followed a national trend of rejecting candidates seen as too extreme.
“That’s because Latinos rejected MAGA, period. Maga is toxic to Latinos,” said Kristian Ramos, a Democratic political operative.
Still, stories of a reddening of the Hispanic electorate were everywhere this election cycle, worrying some Democrats that the narrative would morph into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“I think Latino Democrats don’t listen to pundits. And I think that’s the reason why they just came out and voted in their own self-interest,” said Bold PAC Chair Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.).
“If you had been watching CNN, MSNBC, Fox News and listening to other political pundits, you would have thought that this was going to be obviously a different election, instead Latinos came out because it was important to them,” added Gallego.
So far, no Bold PAC House incumbents lost their seats, and Nevada Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez-Masto’s race is still too close to call.
Bold PAC’s dual mission is to protect CHC incumbents and add new members to the group of congressional Hispanic Democrats – after the 2022 midterms the CHC’s membership is likely to be the largest in its history.
The Republican Latino push had more ups and downs, although the GOP’s absolute dominance in Florida maintained the historical home base of Hispanic conservatism.
“In general, I would say overall, it was a mixed bag … just in general our election results, but also for the Latino vote. And one of the things that worked against Republicans was the high expectations,” said Jennifer Sevilla Korn, executive director of the Hispanic Leadership Network and a former Trump White House official.
Florida was the silver lining for Republicans in 2022 – their success was in part a result of aggressive redistricting, which yielded a handful of blue districts dotting a ruby red landscape.
“[Florida Gov. Ron] DeSantis won by .05 percent four years ago. And the fact that he won by 20 percent and gained in Miami-Dade, a very blue county, is historic. And it’s not just Cubans, because that area has become very diverse,” said Korn.
The GOP’s Florida operation quashed Democratic hopes that South Florida districts would remain competitive, six years after then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton led a blue surge in the historically Republican region.
“South Floridian Latinos are going back to what they were prior to Hillary Clinton, and it looks like we have stemmed the bleeding in Texas, where obviously [Latinos are] still conservative leaning but still Democratic. And it looks like we are moving in the right direction everywhere else,” said Gallego.
Bold PAC took a victory lap Wednesday, celebrating wins in New Jersey, Florida, Texas, California and Illinois.
While the incoming members from those states were expected to win their races, Hispanic Democrats successfully defended two at-risk incumbents in South Texas, and remain competitive in too-close-to-call House races throughout the West, including in California, Washington and Oregon.
One New Mexico race was called early Thursday for the Democratic candidate, Rep.-elect Gabe Vazquez, who beat Rep. Yvette Herrell (R-N.M.), a top Bold PAC target in part for her role in perpetuating election denials.
In Colorado, Rep.-elect Yadira Caraveo (D) won a tight race to become the first Latina Colorado sends to Congress, representing the state’s newly-drawn 8th district.
And those wins are not coincidental – Bold PAC moved aggressively after the 2020 Census to influence redistricting, seeking to draw more districts that could supercharge Hispanic representation nationwide.
“Not to brag, but our staff practically went and got involved in redistricting, and created new districts that basically are probably going to end up getting us three Democrats, with Gabe Vasquez, Yadira Caraveo and Andrea Salinas. If it’s not for Bold PAC helping on redistricting on that, I’m not sure we get those districts and I’m not sure we get three new seats,” said Gallego.
Salinas, who competed for Oregon’s sixth district, is leading Republican Mike Erickson in a tight race with about 60 percent of ballots counted.
In that sense, Bold PAC’s aggressive campaign strategy mirrors DeSantis’ no-holds-barred approach to Florida politics, which stands in contrast to a national Democratic campaign that detractors say is too cautious, incumbent-centric, and East Coast-biased.
It’s also a strategy that some Democratic strategists say stands in contrast to the focus on so-called “frontline” members, moderate Democrats mostly from the East and Midwest who have traditionally been the focus of the party’s campaign apparatus.
“Latinos are the real frontline here. It’s not another member of some random suburban white district,” said Rocha.