Southern California voters this week elected three Latinos to fill open seats in Congress, increasing the diversity of the state's delegation in Washington and showing the growing clout of the state's largest ethnic group.
The three Democrats — Nanette Barragán, Salud Carbajal and Lou Correa — won seats representing parts of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Orange County, respectively.
All three were backed by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus' fundraising political action committee, called the Committee for Hispanic Causes/Building our Leadership Diversity PAC, or CHC BOLD PAC.
Though Democrats failed to win control of the House, Senate or the presidency, the caucus was strengthened by eight new lawmakers for a total of 31 members in the next Congress — the largest Congressional Hispanic Caucus in history.
"The Congressional Hispanic Caucus is the biggest bright spot in this election," Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Los Angeles), chairman of the PAC, told The Hill. He boasted to The Times that the PAC spent more than $3.4 million to help its candidates and that the gains mean the CHC is "bigger and more influential than ever."
Correa will replace Latina Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Orange) in the 46th Congressional District after defeating another Democrat, Garden Grove Mayor Bao Nguyen. Sanchez lost her bid to be the next U.S. senator from California.
Barragán and Carbajal are replacing white members of Congress.
Carbajal, a Santa Barbara County supervisor, won an expensive race against Republican Justin Fareed to replace longtime Democratic Rep. Lois Capps in the Central Coast's 24th Congressional District, which also includes San Luis Obispo County.
The congressman-to-be was born in Mexico. The son of a farmworker, he is the first Latino to represent the Central Coast in Congress. His campaign did not play up that message during the campaign, opting instead to focus on Carbajal's accomplishments in local politics while attacking Fareed for comments he made supporting Donald Trump.
Barragán tacked in a different direction in what began as a long-shot bid to defeat state Sen. Isadore Hall (D-Compton) in the race to replace Rep. Janice Hahn (D-San Pedro).
Hall, a 15-year veteran of Los Angeles politics, had the backing of the state Democratic Party as well as Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Gov. Jerry Brown.
But in a district where it is estimated half of registered voters are Latino, Barragán played up her family's immigrant success story: She is the youngest of 11 kids and her parents immigrated to the United States from Jalisco and Mexico City.
Barragán credits that story and support from CHC BOLD PAC, the women's group Emily's List, progressive environmental groups and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders with helping her scrap out a win with 51.2% of the vote. (She leads Hall, who has not conceded, by just over 2,000 votes as provisional and mail-in ballots continue to be counted.) The race turned ugly in the final weeks with Hall and his allies accusing her campaign of making racist statements.
Correa had a different approach and did not campaign much on his heritage. His campaign website only mentioned he came from "working-class parents." He said in a postelection interview that his grandfather came from Mexico to work on the Southern Pacific Railroad.
"I'm just the son of immigrants who came to this country looking for the American dream," he said.
The fast-growing Latino caucus is set to play an activist role during Trump's presidency. CHC Chairwoman Rep. Linda T. Sánchez (D-Whittier) said Wednesday the caucus would request a meeting with Trump in the coming weeks to "make sure he better understands the challenges our community faces and does not act on his extreme rhetoric."
Barragán, a lawyer and former Hermosa Beach councilwoman, said she was "shocked" by Trump's win but is ready to advocate for Latinos from the nation's capital.
"I am honored to go [to Washington] as a daughter of immigrants and really to show him that I am an example of the good that happens to this nation when you give immigrants opportunities," she said.
Correa has a similar idea in mind: "I didn't expect to come to Washington with Donald Trump as president. That came as a total surprise. But he is the president, and we have to work with him."