As things stand now, the 2010 midterm elections have dramatically shifted the balance of power across the country. The Democrats’ control of the Senate weakened, and Republicans took outright control of the House, ending the term of Rep. Nancy Pelosi as speaker of the House. Much will be made of the Tea Party and its impact, which stands to reason, and the verdict on that will be mostly positive but mixed. But beyond the Beltway and beyond the Tea Party narrative, Republicans surged to greater power at the state level. Sixteen state Houses or Assemblies moved into GOP control, and red states like Texas and Oklahoma got redder. Republicans now hold a majority among governorships. And in what may make the fewest headlines but have the most lasting impact on both parties, minority Republicans won offices all over America.
Glancing around from east to west, Indian-American Nikki Haley won the governorship in South Carolina, becoming both that state’s first female and first minority governor, and the nation’s second Indian-American governor (the other being Republican Bobby Jindal in Louisiana). Tim Scott, a black conservative Republican, won his race for the U.S. House in SC-1, a district which is over 70% white. Allen West, a black conservative Republican and military veteran, won in FL-22. Marco Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, easily won Florida’s three-way Senate race.
Perhaps the greatest gains for minority Republicans occurred in Texas, where Lone Star State voters turned out three Democratic U.S. House incumbents, Reps. Chet Edwards, Ciro Rodriguez, and Solomon Ortiz. Of those three, two were replaced by conservative Hispanic Republicans. Bill Flores crushed Chet Edwards in TX-17 and Francisco “Quico” Canseco defeated Rodriguez in TX-23. Both will bring strong business backgrounds to Congress, which will be sorely needed given the economic straits the country finds itself in, and both will bring the Texas success story to Washington, where they will join the state’s heavily Republican delegation.
Farther down the ballot in Texas, minority Republicans made substantial gains in the Texas House of Representatives. Larry Gonzales won in central Texas’ HD-52; Jose Aliseda won in a surprising upset in HD-35; John Garza won in HD-117; James White, who is black, defeated Democratic incumbent Jim McReynolds in HD-12 in northeast Texas; and Stefani Carter, who is also black, defeated Democratic incumbent Carol Kent in HD-102. On the State Board of Education, Charlie Garza defeated Rene Nunez in west Texas’ SBOE Place 1. All of these seats represent pick-ups for the GOP and for minority Republicans.
For years, Democrats in Texas have pinned their hopes of a return to power on holding onto the black vote and capturing an increasing share of the Hispanic vote. The 2010 elections show that the first line could be cracking, and the second may be a fading possibility.
Looking farther to the west, New Mexico has replaced its Democratic governor, Bill Richards, with native Texan and conservative Republican Susana Martinez. Martinez is New Mexico’s first female governor, and the first female Hispanic governor anywhere. That she ran on the issue of border security, and won, speaks volumes.
Taken together, these gains demonstrate not only the breadth of the Republican victory, but also its depth and strength. Republicans were given a broad mandate to stop the Obama agenda, and that mandate crosses racial and gender lines. Leading up to the primaries, the Republicans all over the country successfully recruited or attracted candidates who don’t fit the media stereotype of the Republican Party or its elected officials, which is white and male and old. These candidates’ victories conclusively demonstrate what has been obvious — that opposition to President Obama is based on policy, not race — while showing that the Republican platform of individual liberty, economic freedom, and national strength is truly open to all Americans, and resonates far beyond the party’s traditional base. These victories also hint that the Democratic coalition, based primarily on big labor plus appeals to race, class, and gender, took a massive and possibly fatal blow on Nov. 2, 2010.