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Senate, House display growing electoral power of women and minorities

Women will hold 20 seats in the Senate, a record high. In the House Democratic caucus, it's projected that white men will no longer be a majority.

November 08, 2012|By Kim Geiger, Los Angeles Times
  • Tammy Baldwin celebrates her victory in the Wisconsin race for U.S. Senate.
Tammy Baldwin celebrates her victory in the Wisconsin race for U.S. Senate. (Darren Hauck, Getty Images )

WASHINGTON — Come January, women will hold 20 of the 100 seats in the Senate, the largest number in history, and white males will probably no longer be a majority in the House Democratic caucus.

Those shifts reflect the growing electoral power of women and minorities, and the Democratic Party's determination to harness that energy to build a diverse coalition.

The gains made by women in the Senate were the first achievement noted by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada when he discussed the election results at a news conference Wednesday.

Reid said that when he was first elected to the Senate in 1986, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, was the only woman in the chamber. There are 17 women in today's Senate: 12 Democrats and five Republicans. That figure will increase to 20 in January — 16 Democrats and four Republicans — when the newly elected senators are seated.

"We're the party of diversity," Reid said. "Look at the results from all over the country."

The National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, said in a statement that the losses in the presidential and Senate elections showed that the party had "a period of reflection and recalibration ahead." The Republican State Leadership Committee touted its $2-million investment in efforts to elect Latinos at the state level. The number of state-level Latino Republicans increased 30%, spokesman Adam Temple said.

In addition to holding all six of the seats occupied by women who were up for reelection this year, Democratic women picked up an additional four: Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts, Mazie K. Hirono in Hawaii, Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin and Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota.

Hirono is the first Asian American woman to be elected to the Senate, and Baldwin will be the first openly gay senator.

Tuesday's results were a major victory for Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat who was first elected to the Senate in 1992. Tapped in 2010 to head the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, it was Murray who had the daunting task of defending her party's majority this year.

"We had a tough map; we knew we had to be aggressive," Murray said as she reflected on the campaign at a news conference Wednesday. "We recruited and nominated the most Democratic women ever.... I believe that is a great thing for our country."

The number of Republican female senators dropped from five to four, after two retirements and the pickup of one seat — by Deb Fischer in Nebraska. The party added a Latino senator with a victory in Texas by Ted Cruz.

In the House, Republicans held on to their majority, but their caucus looked to become less diverse with the likely loss of Rep. Allen West of Florida, one of two African American Republicans in the chamber. West appeared on track to lose his seat to Democrat Patrick Murphy, but was demanding a recount.

In addition, Mia Love, an African American Mormon from Utah and a rising star in the party, lost her bid to Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson. In Arizona, Vernon Parker was trailing his Democratic opponent Kyrsten Sinema by a percentage point.

House Republicans also saw their Latino caucus shrink from seven to five after David Rivera of Florida and Francisco Canseco of Texas were defeated. On the Democratic side, the number of Latinos grew from 17 to 23, increasing the total number of House Latinos to 28, the largest in history.

With Democrats expected to hold about 200 seats once all races were decided, white men were projected to represent slightly less than 50% of the Democratic caucus. It would be the first time that white men did not hold the majority of a major party caucus in the House.

In the 1950s, both the Democratic and Republican caucuses were almost exclusively white men. In the 1980s, women and minorities were 14% of the Democratic caucus and 5% of the Republican caucus, according to a study by David Wasserman of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

"Congressional Democrats have gradually distilled to the core of their electoral coalition — women and minorities," Wasserman wrote.

By 2010, white males were 53% of the Democratic caucus and 86% of the Republican caucus. White males are 31% of the U.S. population.

kim.geiger@latimes.com

Lisa Mascaro and Richard Simon in the Washington bureau and Sandra Poindexter in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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