Represent!

Politics, government and public life for Southern California

California's Latino members of Congress campaigning for fellow politicos

A Democratic party official says Congresswomen Linda, left, and Loretta Sanchez are "our best messengers to Latino voters in these districts where the Latino vote is critical to our success."
A Democratic party official says Congresswomen Linda, left, and Loretta Sanchez are "our best messengers to Latino voters in these districts where the Latino vote is critical to our success."

Congressional candidates are busy getting out their messages to voters in these last few weeks before the November election. With the Latino vote being targeted around the country, a number of rising Latino Congressional stars are also working hard outside of their districts.

Redistricting has made this a particularly busy election year for Congressional Californians. Democrat Loretta Sanchez of Anaheim says when she learned in January what her new district would look like, she began knocking on the doors of "as many of the homes that are new to the district." She's also been registering new voters in her redrawn district.

But Sanchez has found the time to help out a fellow Democrat, State Senator Alan Lowenthal, who’s running for an open Congressional seat in Long Beach where 34% of district residents are Latino.

Her sister and fellow Congresswoman, Linda Sanchez of Lakewood, is also helping Lowenthal; she appeared at one of his fundraising events this past summer. Linda Sanchez is also campaigning for would-be House member Julia Brownley, who's running in a Ventura County district that is 43% Latino.

Jesse Ferguson with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee called the Sanchez sisters "our best messengers to Latino voters in these districts where the Latino vote is critical to our success." 

But not all of California’s Latino Democrats can go on the road to help out their colleagues.

In the Inland Empire, incumbent Joe Baca is busy battling a spirited challenge from fellow Democrat Gloria McLeod. Last June, Grace Napolitano in El Monte squeezed out a primary victory against her GOP opponent, David Miller, by fewer than 2,300 votes.

But the most powerful Latino in the California delegation — LA Democratic Congressman Xavier Becerra — has been on the road from coast-to-coast. His travel itinerary starts with Iowa and doesn't stop there.

"I’ve been to Connecticut. I’ve been to Ohio. I’ve been to Michigan. I’ve been to Illinois," Becerra said.

And he's been all over California, where he campaigned for Brownley and for embattled incumbents Jerry McNerney and Lois Capps.

Republicans in California have a thinner bench of Latino stars to send on the road. Former Lt. Governor Abel Maldonado is the best known GOP Latino in the state, but he’s locked in a tough race with incumbent Capps in Ventura County. 

Daniel Scarpinato with the National Republican Congressional Committee says some non-Latino GOP candidates can connect with Latino voters. 

He points to David Valadao, who's running against Democrat John Hernandez in the Central Valley. Valadao is Portuguese, but speaks Spanish. Scarpinato said he's one of several GOP candidates from immigrant families "who are able to tell that story and have a shared identity with a lot of people in their district of all kinds of backgrounds."

There’s a reason members of Congress are willing to spend time and money working to elect someone else: the way to gain power in the House of Representatives is to make your colleagues happy. 

According to political scientist Marc Sandalow of the University of California’s D.C. Center, making colleagues happy can take a number of forms.

"If that means raising money for them, you raise money for them," Sandalow said. "If that means sending them a check, you send a check. If that means going to their district and speaking Spanish for their Spanish-speaking constituents, that’s what you do." 

Helping a colleague win an election in November can pay off later. Sandalow said that’s how Nancy Pelosi became the top Democrat in the House.

"There’s probably not a Democrat in the caucus that she hasn’t campaigned for, raised money for," Sandalow said. "People remember these things."

Sandalow called all that political support "very, very important." 

It's especially important when members of the House try to win leadership positions. "Whether it’s being a committee chair or whether it’s being the assistant whip, they go to members and they say, 'Hey, I campaigned for you. Don’t forget that,'" Sandalow said.

Here’s proof: Becerra’s help on behalf of his Democratic colleagues has helped him secure the vice-chairmanship of the House Democratic Caucus. That made him fifth most powerful among the 190 Democrats in the House. 

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