BY LUIS ALONSO LUGO, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of Latinos serving in Congress will rise to at least 40 in the new year, and that figure most likely will increase when three undecided races are called.
Thirty-two out of 44 Latino Democratic candidates won election in Tuesday's contests, while six out of 15 Latino Republican candidates claimed victory.
Francisco Pedraza, a political scientist at University of California, Riverside, thinks a small increase in the number of Latinos in Congress is very important because it happened despite redistricting that followed Republican victories in the 2010 election.
"In 2014 and in 2016 elections it was not that obvious," Pedraza told The Associated Press. "Today we see the importance of all the changes brought after the 2010 election."
Latino winners in both parties include new faces who represent a number of firsts.
On the Democratic side, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 29-year-old Nuyorican and former Bernie Sanders organizer, became the youngest woman elected to Congress after her primary victory over one of the most powerful House Democrats in New York.
Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia will be the first Latinas to represent Texas in the House.
And Debbie Mucarsel-Powell will be the first Ecuadorean to have a seat in the House of Representatives after defeating two-term Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo in a Florida district where 70 percent of residents are Hispanic and nearly half are foreign-born.
Mucarsel-Powell was among eight Latino candidates enrolled in Red to Blue, a highly competitive program of the Democratic Party designed to train and support candidates to flip Republican-held districts.
Other winners from that program were environmental lawyer Mike Levin in California and Antonio Delgado, a lawyer from Harvard University and Rhodes Scholar who beat Republican Rep. John Faso from New York's Hudson Valley.
Republicans seized on his brief hip-hop career to portray Delgado, who is black, as unfit for office. Delgado's supporters called it race-baiting.
Two House contests in the Red to Blue program remained undecided Wednesday: Xochitl Torres Small, a Georgetown University-trained lawyer who graduated summa cum laude, running in New Mexico and Gil Cisneros, a former naval officer and 2010 Mega Millions lottery winner, running in California.
All 25 Latino Democratic incumbents were re-elected, including New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, who won a third Senate term despite a federal bribery indictment that prosecutors dropped this year after a mistrial.
Reps. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois and Ruben Kihuen of Nevada did not seek re-election.
Among Republicans, the number of Latino lawmakers fell to six from the current eight, while the re-election of Rep. Jaime Herrera-Beutler remained undecided in Washington state.
Except Curbelo, the other five incumbents were re-elected, including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who staved off a tough challenge from Democrat Rep. Beto O'Rourke.
The Latino Republican delegation in the House will lose Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and Raul Labrador, a fourth-term Puerto Rican congressman who lost Idaho's gubernatorial primary to Lt. Gov. Brad Little.
Ros-Lehtinen, the first Latina and the first Cuban-American elected to Congress and the first Republican woman elected from Florida, is retiring after 30 years.
Former Ohio State University football star and businessman Anthony Gonzalez was the only winner among the three Latino candidates for the House that the GOP supported through its Young Guns program, which develops and supports viable candidates for competitive races.
Gonzalez, a grandson of Cuban exiles, will be the first Latino to represent Ohio in Congress.
They join Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, who are currently serving their terms.
At the state level, Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham —a vocal critic of President Donald Trump and his immigration policies as chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus— was elected New Mexico governor, defeating Republican Rep. Steve Pearce.
Lujan Grisham will succeed two-term Republican Gov. Susana Martinez and will become the nation's second Latina governor, after Martinez, and the nation's first Latina Democratic governor.
Other Democratic Latino gubernatorial candidates failed in their quests: Education professor David Garcia lost to Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, who was re-elected in Arizona, and former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez was unable to stop Texas Gov. Greg Abbott from winning a second term.
California state Sen. Kevin de Leon lost his bid to replace veteran Sen. Dianne Feinstein in California.