Among the Democratic losers in the heavily white districts were several of the last remaining Blue Dogs—moderate Democrats who represented predominantly white, often rural, seats. These included Democrats Mark Critz of Pennsylvania, Ben Chandler of Kentucky, and Leonard Boswell of Iowa, all of whom lost reelection bids; and Oklahoma’s Dan Boren, North Carolina’s Heath Shuler, and Arkansas’s Mike Ross, whose seats flipped to the GOP after they retired.
The Republican losers in the diverse districts prominently included three California incumbents defeated in redrawn seats with substantial Hispanic populations: Mary Bono Mack, Dan Lungren, and Brian Bilbray. Another loser was Rep. Francisco Canseco of Texas, who was ousted by Democrat Pete Gallego in a majority Hispanic district. At the Republican National Convention last summer, NRCC Executive Director Guy Harrison heaped scorn on the suggestion that Canseco could lose. Democrats “believe that a 67 percent Hispanic seat should never vote for a Republican,” Harrison told The Dallas Morning News then. It’s not quite a hard-and-fast rule, but Canseco’s defeat is one of several last year demonstrating how close that sentiment is to becoming a reality.
After this reshuffling, the parties glare across a deep racial chasm in the House. That’s evident most visibly in the composition of each party in the 113th Congress. White men will still constitute 88 percent of House Republicans, while, for the first time ever, they will represent a minority of the House Democratic Caucus, in which women and minority members are now the majority.
Even more important is the divergence in the voters each side represents. Republicans now hold 187 of the 259 districts (72 percent) in which whites exceed their national share of the voting-age population. Democrats hold 129 of the 176 seats (73 percent) in which minorities exceed their national share of the voting-age population. From another angle, 80 percent of Republicans represent districts more heavily white than the national average; 64 percent of House Democrats represent seats more heavily nonwhite than the national average.
Looking solely at Hispanics, the differences are even more striking: 68 House Democrats, about one-third of the total, hold districts in which Hispanics constitute at least one-fifth of the voting-age population. That’s true for just 28, or 12 percent, of House Republicans. Conversely, 165 House Republicans, or just over 70 percent, represent districts in which Hispanics make up no more than 10 percent of the voting-age population; that’s true for only 81 Democrats (or two-fifths of their caucus).
Whatever the vantage point, in the House, Democrats now hold a clear edge in the portions of America being reshaped by diversity, while Republicans dominate the portions that remain largely untouched by it.
The biggest question these patterns raise for the GOP is whether it is possible to align the interests of House Republicans and the national party on issues that the growing nonwhite population cares most about.
For many Republican strategists, the clear message of the 2012 election was that the party will struggle to win the White House until it gains support among minorities. The numbers left little room for debate: According to the Election Day exit poll, Mitt Romney carried 59 percent of white voters—the same percentage George H.W. Bush did in his resounding 1988 victory. Yet Romney was soundly defeated because Obama won 80 percent of all nonwhite voters, who increased their share of the electorate to a record 28 percent.
Obama not only captured more than nine in 10 African-Americans but also soared past 70 percent with both Hispanics and Asian-Americans after a campaign in which Romney championed “self-deportation” for illegal immigrants. “The national numbers … were a wake-up call,” says Jennifer Korn, executive director of the center-right Hispanic Leadership Network. “Republicans need to look at how they talk to these different demographics without pandering to them. On the immigration thing, it didn’t just affect Hispanics.”
But even some House Republicans from racially diverse districts worry that many of their colleagues representing more monolithically white areas aren’t doing enough to court minorities. “Honestly, I don’t believe they are,” says Rep. Joe Heck, who won reelection in a diverse district outside Las Vegas.
Heck says he’s established beachheads among minority voters by working first with ethnic chambers of commerce. “For me, meeting with the members of the chamber was a door to building relationships with members of those communities,” he says. Then he hired aides to coordinate outreach to Hispanic and Asian constituents; during his campaign, he organized coalitions in those communities. “When I’m home in the district, we would do entire outreach days, visiting multiple Hispanic businesses, even ones outside of my district.”