Emerging Pattern or Unique Event? The Power of the Non-Racial Campaign in Colorado

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Book Chapter

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University of Notre Dame Press


In the end, it came down to two brothers from Colorado’s San Luis Valley. After all the talk of a tight presidential race, the power of the first time voters, 527 groups, Amendment 36, voter intimidation, and voter fraud, the story of the 2004 election in Colorado concerned two Latino farmers earning historic victories on Election Day. Ken Salazar and his older brother, John, became the first Latino senator and U.S. Representative, respectively, to be elected in the state of Colorado.1 That these victories took place in Colorado and not in states such as New Mexico or California that have larger bases of Latino voters and long records of electing Latinos to Congress creates new questions for those who study Latino politics. The answers to these questions may uncover the beginning of a new pattern in Latino politics, or they may simply reveal a blip on the screen, a unique event of no long-term consequence to Latinos in the United States.

This chapter targets a number of puzzles regarding the condition of Latino politics in Colorado in 2004. The most intriguing question surrounds the ability of Ken and John Salazar, both Democrats, to win tightly contested elections in a moderately conservative state that supported George Bush by 9 percentage points (145,000 votes) in 2000. To be sure, John Kerry and the Democrats made some gains in the state, losing to Bush by only 5 percentage points (100,000 votes),2 but further analysis of the results reveals that Ken Salazar outgained Kerry (his statewide ticket partner) in sixty-two of Colorado’s sixty-four counties . This feat required the Salazars to run campaigns that differed from the typical Latino Democrat, campaigns that we label “nonracial.” Turning the tables on (or borrowing from) the Republican playbook to skim Latino voters from the Democrats, these candidates were able to appeal to Latino voters while converting a large number of nonLatinos . The successes of these campaigns, we argue, speak to some of the fundamental issues in Latino politics in the twenty-first century, making the Salazars a metaphor for the strategic fluidity of race and ethnicity in a changing national environment. Is the nonracial campaign the best way for Latinos to achieve descriptive representation in the new century? More specifically, is this the best strategy for electing Latinos to national and statewide seats in Republican-dominated areas? If so, what impact will these Latino elites have on policy? Are Latino voter preferences changing, and what does this mean for the two major parties at the national level?

Chapter of

Beyond the Barrio: Latinos in the 2004 Elections


Rodolfo O. De la Garza
Louis DeSipio
David L. Leal

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