2018 could be historic for communities of color

2018 could be historic for communities of color
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Following the defeat of Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonLewandowski on potential NH Senate run: If I run, 'I'm going to win' Fighter pilot vs. astronaut match-up in Arizona could determine control of Senate Progressive Democrats' turnout plans simply don't add up MORE in 2016 and the subsequent Women’s March after President TrumpDonald John TrumpO'Rourke: Trump driving global, U.S. economy into recession Manchin: Trump has 'golden opportunity' on gun reforms Objections to Trump's new immigration rule wildly exaggerated MORE’s inauguration, it became clear that the role of women in politics would become one of the prominent narratives of the 2018 election cycle. Young voices have also stepped to the forefront, as illustrated by the rise of Parkland high school students Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg. It is no surprise that millennials are running for office in potentially record numbers.

But this election cycle is not only about women and millennials, or even the progressive candidates inspired by Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersJoe Biden faces an uncertain path Bernie Sanders vows to go to 'war with white nationalism and racism' as president Biden: 'There's an awful lot of really good Republicans out there' MORE. This election could mark a history-making year for communities of color that brings them unprecedented political power in our nation’s capital.

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For black, Latino and Asian-American voters, 2016 was an enormous setback. Following Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaDick Cheney to attend fundraiser supporting Trump reelection: report Forget conventional wisdom — Bernie Sanders is electable 2020 Democrats fight to claim Obama's mantle on health care MORE’s two electoral victories, there were many who believed that Democrats would ride the demographic wave to victories in presidential elections for years. But in 2016 many of the demographic groups that formed the “Obama coalition” stayed home. According to Pew Research Center, after setting voter turnout records for both of Obama’s elections, black voter turnout fell sharply in 2016, dropping for the first time in 20 years in a presidential election.

 

Things were not much better when it came to the Latino vote. Even though the president  launched his campaign by branding Mexicans as “criminals” and “rapists,” with a promise to build a U.S. border wall, the Latino voter turnout in 2016 did not increase over 2012.

Now there are signs of a political reawakening in communities of color. In Alabama’s Senate special election, Doug Jones’s surprise victory was, in part, because of high voter turnout in the black community. Exit polling showed that black voters made up 29 percent of the vote, exceeding the percentage of black voters in the state who turned out for Obama in 2012. Similarly, in Virginia, the Latino voter turnout in last year’s gubernatorial election exceeded its share of eligible voters by 20 percent. Black and Asian-American voter turnout was also up.

The recent fights that the black and Latino communities have had with the president on a variety of issues, including his crude characterization of Haiti and African nations and over the treatment of “Dreamers,” should only continue fueling the trend this year.

What will an empowered and engaged, diverse electorate mean this November? Besides helping Democratic candidates up and down the ballot, it also could usher diverse candidates into Congress. Cycle after cycle, the membership of the Congressional Black Caucus, Congressional Hispanic Caucus and Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus has grown. There are 88 Democratic “Tri-Caucus” members in the House of Representatives and six in the Senate — an all-time high. These numbers are likely to increase after November. In about 20 House races, a non-incumbent, Tri-Caucus candidate has a chance to win.

On Tuesday, several Tri-Caucus candidates won primaries in Texas. Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia won the Democratic primaries in the safe blue 16th and 29th districts and could become the first Latinas to represent Texas in Congress next year. In the toss-up 23rd and 32nd districts, the runoff elections in May will feature diverse candidates Gina Ortiz Jones and Colin Allred as favorites. From California to Florida to Massachusetts, the influx of diverse candidates means the Tri-Caucus could reach 100 Democratic members in the House for the first time in history. And with that increased representation comes an increase in political power for communities of color.

It is not just about the sheer number of black, Latino and Asian-American candidates who could win. There are several trailblazing candidates who could expand the political map for diverse members of Congress. In Massachusetts, Juana Matias is looking to become the first Latina member of Congress from New England. Joe Neguse could become the first black congressman from Colorado. And in Maryland, Aruna Miller could become the first Asian-American woman to represent the mid-Atlantic region in Congress. This list is not exhaustive.

In a year of transformational political narratives, the re-emergence of black, Latino and Asian-American voters as a political force is not just important — it could be historic.

Oscar Ramirez is co-founder of InSight Public Affairs, a lobbying and public relations firm that represents corporate and nonprofit clients. He sits on the National Committee of the Latino Victory Fund. He was special assistant to Labor Secretary Hilda Solis during the Obama administration, the Virginia policy director for the 2008 Obama campaign, and a senior Democratic staffer in the U.S. House of Representatives.