Governors Martinez and Sandoval will be a good Test for Latino Republicans with Latino voters.

By Alex Gonzalez

In 2010, the Tea Party wave, driven by a strong anti-Obama sentiment, helped elect the first Latino female Republican Governor in New Mexico and first Latino Republican Governor in Nevada. This Tea Party wave also helped elect some Latino Republicans to Congress and state legislators in Texas.  However, by the election of 2012, much of euphoria of the Tea Party–caused by some senatorial fiascos–the Tea Party fervor waned down in Nevada and New Mexico, and more than half of those Latino Republicans elected to the Texas legislature were defeated in the 2012 election. So 2014 will be a good year to test whether the GOP gains with Latinos in Nevada and New Mexico are real; and maybe even a good test in California where former GOP Lt. Gov Abel Maldonado is considering running for governor.

In Texas, for example, in 2010, Republican voters elected the largest bloc of Latino Republicans to the Legislature in History. For the first time, the Texas legislature had five Latino Republican legislators, and one who changed from a Democrat to a Republican in early 2011. In 2010, Republicans in Texas also elected “Quico” Canseco in district 23rd defeating Democrat “Ciro” Rodriguez 49-44%. In addition, in Texas Bill Flores won Texas Congressional District 17th  held by 10-term Democratic incumbent Chet Edwards.

But that was then. In 2012, in Texas, only one of those Latino Republican state legislators elected in 2010 was re-elected to the Texas legislature, Rep. Larry Gonzales from District 52 who ran unopposed. But the 2012 election did add a new Republican Latino legislator, Jason Villalba from district 114 in the Dallas area. The other Latino Republican legislator, J.M. Lozano, changed from a Democrat to a Republican in early 2012 after redistricting brought more conservative voters into his old Democrat district. In addition,  “Quico” Canseco lost to Democrat Pete Gallegos by 4 points.

So whatever Latino Republican gains the GOP got in 2010, by 2012 they suffered a setback during the presidential election.  But in Texas, Tea Parties did elect Ted Cruz to the U.S. Senate over “establishment” candidate Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

Govs.  Martinez and Sandoval are not brewing the TEA anymore.
In New Mexico,  in 2010 Susan Martinez won 51 percent of the vote in a five-way contest and won her election with support of 40% of Latinos and thanks to a surge of Tea Party activists in New Mexico;  She was also endorsed by Sarah Palin.

Martinez became the first female governor of New Mexico, and  the first female Hispanic governor in the United States with 54 percent of the vote. But in 2012, Gov. Martinez was immuned to presidential politics.

Moreover, while the GOP Party line generally focuses on cutting services, Martinez actually has become popular in the state–and nationwide–as a compromiser that promotes policies aimed at helping the sick and poor, and to educate children in her state; and she has even signed in for ObamaCare.  Moreover, she goes out of her way to make it know that she believes in providing services to adults and children who can’t take care of themselves. And she gets high marks for this in New Mexico where she holds 69% favorability.

In other words, by now, whatever element of the Tea Party is left in New Mexico, they must know that Gov. Martinez is moderate compromiser that is not afraid of protecting the interests of New Mexican by accepting federal programs like ObamaCare and promote education policies as long she is able to cut government expenditures in the state, where she is very popular. Also, Gov. Martinez is very open about her support Immigration Reform.

So the test for Susana Martinez will be whether Republicans in New Mexico–a state won by Obama by 10 points–can still win a gubernatorial race with Latino candidate that actually promotes issues important to Latinos like education and healthcare, and without Tea Party wave.

In Nevada, Brian Sandoval won Nevada’s 2010 gubernatorial election with 53 percent of the vote beating Rory Reid, the son of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid . Sandoval’s win made him Nevada’s first Latino governor. Gov. Sandoval is Pro-choice but supports late-term restrictions & no federal funding. He also promotes education reforms, and has signed in for ObamaCare. But he “categorically” opposes “amnesty.”

Sandoval has mostly stayed away from national Politics as the “Latino Republican” elected official,  even though the RNC always point at Sandoval, and Susan Martinez, as the “Latino Republican” elected officials. When Sandoval was elected in 2010, the Republican base in Nevada had been turned into very strong Tea Party wave that voted for Tea Party darling Sharon Angle over former State Senator Sue Lowden–the “Establishment” candidate; at the end Sharon Angle lost getting only 45% of the vote.

But, in 2012, in the race for U.S. Senate former State Senator Dean Heller, who was  appointed to this seat left vacant by resigning U.S. Senator John Ensign, was narrowly elected to his first full term with  less than one point ( 45.87-44.41) . So by 2012, in Nevada, there were no signs of a serious Tea Party candidate for the U.S. Senate. Also, just like in New Mexico, Obama won Nevada by 7 points; and this is the reason why  Sen. Heller is a moderate like Sandoval; he does not follow the  GOP Party line that generally focuses on cutting services, he want to make government efficient.

As a result, now that Tea Party has also waned in Nevada, Sandoval’s challenge will be whether he can be reelected as generic Latino Republican to second term without the strong wave of Tea Party activism in a state has signed for ObamaCare and voted for Obama last November.

Consequently, If both Martinez and Sandoval can be re-elected as moderates, and the GOP can take back Congressional district 23 where “Quico” Canseco lost, it will be a good sign for Republican Party in the Southwest because it will suggest that the GOP moderate message is working with Latino voters and that moderate Latino Republicans can run as generic Republicans even if they do not have the majority of the Latino vote in their respective state or district. It will also suggest that GO is on the right path–the right message– to win over voters Latinos without the need of any unusual temporary political movements by focusing in issues important to voters in Southwest.

In 2010, during the California Republican primaries, Tea Party darling Chuck DeVore and Steve Poizner push Meg Whitman so far to right on immigration that by the time of general election, it was very difficult for  Meg Whitman to cleanse the image of the GOP on immigration with Latino voters. But the fact Abel Maldonado is thinking about running gives a new chance for the GOP in California to woo Latino voters in 2014 because, just like Susana Martinez, he wants ti cut wasteful government spending and high taxes, but improve education for Latinos.

There is no doubt that Tea Party helped propel Sandoval and Martinez to office in 2010. And  it is imperative for the RNC to keep both Latino governors in office without a Tea Party wave because Republicans needs proof of how the GOP is successful with Latinos. Moreover, Texas is one of the states where the Tea Party is still strong. But the 2012 results also showed, that district-by-district, even with Tea Party fervor  still strong in the state, the GOP  need a more viable message that focuses not only and Tea Party mantra that focuses on cutting services, but on how to make government efficient on issues important to Latinos like education.

Alex Gonzalez  is a political Analyst and Political Director for Latinos Ready To Vote!  He received a Bachelors Degree and a Masters’ Degree, with emphasis in American politics,  from San Francisco State University.
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