EDITOR’S NOTE: Ethnic candidates rode the GOP/Tea Party wave on Nov. 2, with Latinos and Indian Americans capturing historic governorships (including South Carolina’s Nikki Haley, above) and two black Republicans heading to Congress for the first time since 1997.
Ethnic minorities also prevailed in some key Democratic races. Here is a roundup of the most widely watched races of election night.
MARCO RUBIO (Republican), the designated Tea Party candidate, easily claimed the seat vacated by Cuban American Republican Mel Martinez in August 2009, winning 50 percent of the vote. He defeated current Gov. Charlie Crist (29 percent), who quit the GOP to run against Rubio as an independent, and Democrat Rep. Kendrick Meeks (19 percent).
In a poll conducted by National Council of La Raza, shortly before the election, 62 percent of Latinos said they planned to vote for Rubio, who is 39. That contrasted with 2008, when Hispanics voted for Democrats Barack Obama and Joe Biden over Republicans John McCain and Sarah Palin by a 67 to 31 percent margin, according to an analysis by the Pew Hispanic Center and CNN.
FLORIDA/U.S. CONGRESS (22nd DISTRICT)
ALLEN WEST, an African American candidate and early Tea Party favorite, trounced his Democratic opponent, incumbent Ron Klein, 54 percent to 46 percent, becoming one of two black Republicans to win House seats this November.
New organizations called the race one of the nastiest election battles in Florida this year and the second most expensive House race in the country. West, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and Iraq War vet, gained a following with speeches like the one that went viral on YouTube, getting 2.3 million hits. Klein, who won the Boca Raton in 2008, sought to portray West as too radical for the swing district.
FLORIDA/U.S. CONGRESS (25TH DISTRICT)
DAVID RIVERA, a Republican state lawmaker and Miami-based public affairs consultant, defeated Democrat Joe Garcia, 54 percent to 41 percent, in the South Florida seat that had been held by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart.
After barely defeating Garcia in 2008, Diaz-Balart abandoned the 25th District (suburban and exurban Miami), and instead decided to run for the 21st Congressional District seat held since 1992 by his brother, Lincoln, who announced his retirement earlier this year. The 21st District (parts of Miami-Dade and Broward counties) leans more Republican than the 25th District. But in a Republican-wave year, Rivera easily defeated Garcia, who had served most recently in the Obama administration as director of the Office of Minority Economic Impact for the Department of Energy.
NIKKI HALEY, the daughter of a Sikh immigrants from India, defeated her Democratic opponent, Vincent Sheheen, 52 percent to 47 percent, making her the first woman chief executive of the state and America’s second Indian American governor after Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, also a Republican.
The race between Haley and Sheheen to replace scandal-plagued GOP governor Mark Sanford is believed to have been the most expensive in state history.
Haley first ran for the South Carolina House of Representatives, becoming the first Indian American to hold office in the state. Her campaign for governor got a boost when she won the endorsement of Sarah Palin during the primary.
She saw quite a bit of controversy surround her campaign before the primary earlier this year. From a racial slur from a fellow lawmaker to unproven accusations of an affair by a political blogger, Haley still snagged the Republican nomination.
SOUTH CAROLINA/U.S. CONGRESS (1st DISTRICT)
TIM SCOTT, another black Tea Party candidate, easily defeated perennial Democratic candidate Ben Frasier and to win congressional seat left vacant by the retirement of Republican U.S. Rep. Henry Brown.
Scott, a small business owner who in 2009 became the first African American Republican elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives since Reconstruction, takes over a district once represented by Gov. Mark Sanford. He earned his spot on the GOP ticket with a primary victory over the son of the one-time segregationist U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond.
LOUISIANA/U.S. CONGRESS (2nd DISTRICT)
CEDRIC RICHMOND, a Democratic member of the Louisiana House of Representatives since 2000, defeated the one-term Republican incumbent Anh “Joseph” Cao in the heavily Democratic New Orleans district, 58 percent to 39 percent.
Richmond, a 37-year-old African American, had been expected to beat Cao, whose 2008 victory — for the seat long held by Democrat William Jefferson — was considered an anomaly, after Jefferson was accused of corruption. Cao, who immigrated to the United States when he was 8, was the first Vietnamese American to serve