Mujeres y Movidas:

Latina Congressional Candidate Emergence and Experiences in California and Texas

by Anna Sampaio (Professor of Ethnic Studies and Political Science, Santa Clara University)

Executive Summary

NOTE: This research was funded through the CAWP Research Grant initiative.

  • A record number of Latinas ran for national office as major party candidates and won in 2018, 2020, and 2022 (51 in 2018, 75 in 2020, and 88 in 2022); and by 2023 the number of Latinas elected to Congress grew from 10 (2018) to 20 (2023). At the beginning of the 118th congressional session in January 2023, 19 Latinas were serving in national office as voting members of Congress.[1] This included 18 Latinas in the U.S. House of Representatives (13D, 5R) and one Latina Democrat in the U.S. Senate.
  • Despite the gains made in the last three general elections, Latinas are vastly underrepresented within national politics. In 2022 Latinas constituted over 9% of the total U.S. population, over 18% of all women in the U.S., and half of the largest racial/ethnic minority community in the U.S.; however, they represented just 2.8% of the entire congressional body. Among these women is Senator Catherine Cortez Masto from Nevada — the only Latina ever elected to the U.S. Senate.
  • The volume and diversity of Latina congressional candidates grew in 2018, 2020, and 2022. While Latina congressional candidates continue to be concentrated in the Democratic party, an increasing number of Latina Republicans ran for office and won, particularly in 2020 and 2022. The ascendance of the Trump administration, and particularly the targeting of fundamental rights including immigration and reproductive rights, served as mobilizing factor for both Latina Democrats and Republicans.
  • As the number of Latina candidates running for national office grew in 2018, 2020, and 2022, so too did the number of Latinas running against other Latinas and against other women of color. These intra-racial challenges most commonly occurred in districts where Latina Republicans were advanced as challengers against recently elected Latina Democrats. In the preponderance of such cases the Republican challenger lacked political experience, professional capacity, and fundraising, ultimately leading to their defeat; however, the frequency with which this occurred suggested a problematic weaponizing of intersectionality. Moreover, the likelihood that these intra-racial challenges will continue to occur signals a new concern for the longevity and re-election of Latinas in Congress.
  • California and Texas remain the epicenter of Latina candidate emergence with half of all Latinas who ran for Congress in 2018, 2020, and 2022 emerging from the two states.  While more Latina congressional candidates have emerged from Texas and their numbers have increased significantly over the past three election cycles – especially among Republicans running in 2020 and Democrats running in 2022 – Latina candidates from California have been far more successful in winning election and re-election to national office.
  • Despite partisan differences, Latina congressional candidates in both states shared a number of similar experiences, obstacles, opportunities, and concerns about their campaigns and the election process revealed in interviews with two dozen candidates and professionals supporting their candidacies conducted over the past two years. Recurring themes from these interviews revolved around the significance or race, gender, and intersectionality among candidates’ identities, encounters with discrimination and political hostility, varying degrees of party support and the role of outside organizations, and the use of alternative organizing and mobilization strategies to support their campaigns.

[1] Republican Mayra Flores was elected to Congress from Texas during a special election in June 2022; however, she lost her re-election bid during regularly scheduled elections in November 2022. Thus, while there were 20 Latinas elected to Congress throughout the 2022 elections cycles, there were 19 voting members in office at the outset of the 118th congressional session in 2023.