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Oregon elected its first Latina and Republican woman to Congress last year after Lori Chavez-DeRemer flipped a Democratic-held House seat, aided by millions of dollars of help from an outside group allied with now Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
“It’s about time,” Chavez-DeRemer said in an interview during a stop this month in Portland. “What have we been waiting for?”
Electing members like Chavez-DeRemer has emerged as a critical component of McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) hopes of retaining his narrow majority next year. Broadening the party’s appeal beyond its base could make a difference in Republicans’ ability to win over independent and even some Democratic voters in competitive districts in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere in 2024.
Hispanic men have served in Congress since the 19th century. But it wasn’t until Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s (R-Fla.) 1989 victory in a special election in Miami that a Hispanic woman was elected to Congress.
All five Latinas in McCarthy’s razor-thin majority punched their ticket to Washington since the turn of the decade by winning previously Democratic-held seats. Republicans attribute that to their ability to speak with authenticity to a diverse, working-class.
“Recruiting high quality candidates has been a hallmark of the McCarthy era,” said Dan Conston, president of the McCarthy-aligned super political action committee Congressional Leadership Fund. “We’ve prioritized recruiting meritorious and diverse candidates who better reflect the districts they’re running to represent, and those efforts are paying dividends.”
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Annie Dickerson, founder and chair of Winning for Women Action Fund, which bills itself as the first super PAC dedicated solely to electing Republican women, said growing the party “starts by backing exceptional women like these.”
She hosted a fundraiser last month with McCarthy and House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (N.Y.) that raised nearly $75,000 each for three of the Hispanic Republican women in Congress.
“We have wasted no time helping ensure they have the resources they need to compete and win next year,” Dickerson said.
Skewing White and Male
Republicans still face challenges in diversifying their candidate field. GOP voters and officeholders skew more male and White than Democrats do and incumbency and polarized districts drawn by one-party controlled state legislatures leave few opportunities to elect new members. Concerted efforts to recruit and elect Republican women and Latinos for competitive races are also a relatively new development.
Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas) in an interview said he and Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart (R-Fla.) last cycle started the Hispanic Leadership Trust, a PAC dedicated to electing Republican Latinos and Hispanics, in response to Democratic engagement with those communities that Republicans had left unanswered.
“Everyone kind of talks about” the importance of electing more Hispanic Republicans, Gonzales said. “But talk is cheap. You got to deliver.”
Sarah Chamberlain, president and CEO of the Republican Main Street Partnership, said bringing those voices to conference deliberations brings different viewpoints to its members, especially the men who make up its majority.
“We need to look like America, so it’s very helpful to have a diverse Republican Party,” Chamberlain said. “I think it’s very important to have not only women but Hispanic women.”
Republicans stress that they’ve made modest but important gains in Latino support and recruitment over the last few cycles. It’s been 10 years since the Republican National Committee conducted an “autopsy” of the failed effort to unseat then-President Barack Obama. The report, commissioned by then-chairman Reince Priebus, identified better outreach to Latinos as a critical component to the party’s longevity.
“What they have been doing is managing those margins,” said Fernand Amandi, president at Miami-based research and strategic communications consulting firm Bendixen & Amandi. “Part of that strategy is recruiting and running Hispanic candidates, be they male or female, to try and pick off a point or two here and there, which in some states and in some races could represent the very margin between victory and defeat.”
Leveraging New Messengers
Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, who won back a long-held Republican seat in New York City from Democrats in part by campaigning as the daughter of a Cuban exile, said her party is “able to leverage these new messengers and communicate to minority communities” about the GOP agenda.
“The more we show the American people our commonsense solutions, we can continue to attract solid candidates that reflect the true makeup of districts across America,” she said in a statement.
Some of the Republicans highlight their background to win Hispanics’ votes in competitive races.
Rep. María Elvira Salazar (R-Fla.) in an interview said her decades as a reporter for the Spanish-language broadcasters Univision and Telemundo gave her a unique ability to understand Latinos across the political spectrum in a Miami district where nearly three-quarters of voters identify as Hispanic.
“Some of those viewers I turned into voters,” Salazar said. “That’s why I was able to defeat” former Rep. Donna Shalala (D-Fla.) in a heavily Democratic district.
Rep. Monica De La Cruz (R) in an interview said “I’m going to focus on the things that matter most to my community” as she seeks a second term in a South Texas border district that is more than 80% Hispanic.
She’s campaigning on Republican policy priorities that include reinstating Trump-era asylum rules and building physical barriers on the border with Mexico.
Republicans have recruited other diverse candidates in more than half a dozen competitive districts. At the National Republican Congressional Committee’s urging, former Rep. Mayra Flores (R) is seeking a rematch against Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D) in another South Texas district that’s the most Hispanic in the country. Gonzalez beat Flores by 8.5 points in 2022 in the district that Biden also won by 16 points.
Maria Montero, the daughter of immigrants, has entered the GOP primary to win the seat now held by Rep. Susan Wild (D) in a competitive district in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley. Montero was former Gov. Tom Corbett’s (R) executive director of the Pennsylvania Commission for Women.
NRCC Chair Richard Hudson (R-N.C.) predicted Republican Latinas’ stories would “allow for a deep connection with voters allowing Republicans to win anywhere in America.”
Not all of Republicans’ diversification efforts go as planned. In 2020, GOP leadership endorsed Amanda Makki (R), an Iranian refugee and former congressional aide, in her bid against then-Rep. Charlie Crist (D) in St. Petersburg, Fla. She lost the primary to Anna Paulina Luna, an upstart challenger who came to politics as an organizer of Hispanic conservatives.
Luna went on to become the first Mexican American woman elected from Florida after the district’s lines were redrawn in 2022. Luna now expects McCarthy and his allies to spend on her behalf next year if necessary, even after she voted repeatedly against his speakership in January.
“I am an asset to the party for messaging and branding,” Luna said in an interview. “I think that they know that.”
— With assistance from Ellen M. Gilmer, Greg Giroux, and Jonathan Hurtarte.
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