USA Today opinion
Hispanics achieved a political milestone this week. They helped elect two of their own to the U.S. Senate. There have been three Hispanic senators, but this marks the first time two will serve together.
Even more significant is the message sent by what is now the nation’s largest minority — 39 million and growing. The Republican and Democratic parties are now on notice that Hispanic voters are up for grabs and tough to pigeonhole.
Just look at the vast differences between the two Hispanics elected to the Senate:
Florida chose Republican Mel Martinez, a Cuban-born immigrant who served in President Bush’s Cabinet and hews to a conservative line.
Colorado chose state Attorney General Ken Salazar, a Democrat with a down-home image who called for tax hikes on the rich. His family has lived in the state for five generations.
In the presidential race, 44% of Hispanics voted for Bush, according to a survey of voters after they left the polls. That’s up 9 points from his share of the Hispanic vote in 2000. John Kerry got 53%.
For years, African-American leaders have warned Democrats not to take their support for granted. But that’s a tough sell when 89% of black voters chose Kerry, compared with 11% who picked Bush. By splitting their vote more evenly, Hispanics have found a better way to deliver that warning.