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African Americans and Hispanics Look to Upcoming Midterm Elections


The U.S. midterm elections on November 7 could be significant for the two largest minority groups in the United States -- African Americans and Latinos. Hispanics could be galvanized by the immigration issue to turn out and vote in larger numbers than ever before and thereby swing some key races. In the case of African Americans, six black candidates are running for either governor or senator this year, a record number seeking higher statewide office. VOA's Bill Rodgers has this overview of how these two minority groups may affect the upcoming elections.

Michael Steele -- the Lieutenant Governor of Maryland -- is running for Senator. A Republican, he is one of six African American candidates of both parties running for higher office in the United States this election year -- a record.

David Bositis, who specializes in black electoral politics at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington, says it is part of a trend. "If you combine the number of gubernatorial and senatorial candidates, 2006 is the highest ever," says Bositis. "It is part of a trend. Remember, African Americans were effectively kept from most offices for many years. But there are now more and more African Americans who have the requisite personal characteristics and political experience that permits them to run for these higher-level offices."

The candidates range from Congressman Harold Ford, Jr., a Democrat running for Senate in the southern state of Tennessee, to conservative Republican Ken Blackwell hoping to win the governorship in Ohio.

Congressman Elijah Cummings, who is one of 40 black members of the House of Representatives, is pleased by the large number of African American candidates from both parties.

Cummings believes this is partly due to the impact of Barack Obama, the charismatic Democratic Senator from Illinois, who was elected in 2004 and is now the Senate's only black member. "I think that a lot of young people saw Barack Obama, what appeared to be almost overnight, become like a rock star," says Cummings. "They saw this bright, sharp Harvard-educated young man, and a lot of them began to look at themselves and say, 'I can do that too'."

African Americans tend to vote overwhelmingly for Democrats and this may hinder the chances of the three black Republicans running for higher office.

Republican Steele in Maryland hopes to overcome this -- partly by not emphasizing his party affiliation, a tactic that has drawn questions. "Everyone, I think, knows I'm a Republican," he says, "and quite frankly I've not seen a Democrat at the start say, 'Hi, I'm a Democrat', so why do I have to live by a separate standard?"

It was only in 1990 that Douglas Wilder in Virginia became the first black governor to be elected in any state in more than 100 years. This year Democrat Deval Patrick of Massachusetts has a very good chance of becoming the country's second black elected governor.

For Hispanics, voter turnout is the focus in this election, instead of groundbreaking candidates. Latinos traditionally do not turn out in large numbers to vote.

But this year may be different; judging by the mass rallies held earlier this year to demand immigration reform and protest measures to stiffen penalties on illegal immigrants.

Advocacy groups such as the National Council of La Raza are working to register more Latino voters. La Raza's Clarissa Martinez says Latinos will judge candidates on their position on immigration. "The anti-immigration climate in the country has been largely identified with the Republican party and the members that are most definitely at its forefront happen to be Republican," she says. "But I think that this has been a 'black eye' for Republican Party. I think that people are trying to see who really leads the Republican Party - is it the anti-immigrant wing or is it the wing that believes that we are a nation of immigrants and that we need to figure out how to solve this problem?"

Political analyst Stuart Rothenberg says the immigration issue also could galvanize Republican voters. "There's some anger, particularly on the part of conservatives about illegal immigrants in this country and they could turn out," says Rothenberg. "And even moderate and independent voters feel that anger, and resent the number of illegal immigrants here and the benefits they get by living here. So that's a potential issue actually for Republicans that's under the surface."

How Americans feel about issues such as immigration -- and the statewide candidacies of African Americans -- will be decided in November when voters go to the polls.