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Latino politicians gain clout in US

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The Hispanic gains also reflect America's demographic evolution - and not just in L.A. While the number of Hispanics has grown nationwide (to 35.3 million - surpassing blacks as the nation's largest minority) the number of Hispanic voters has doubled (from 5 million to 10 million) in the past 10 years. That has brought emerging Latino populations - and politicians - to states outside the Southwest, including Illinois, and New Jersey which have seen rises of 95 percent and 209 percent respectively in the number of statewide elected Hispanic officials.

"Part of the story of growing Hispanic political clout is Hispanic's demonstrated ability to put coalitions together nationally, and organize voters from Kansas to Colorado to Florida," says Marcelo Gaete, senior analyst for the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO). "They are not just thinking in terms of Texas, California, Arizona, and New Mexico anymore."

Within this context, Villaraigosa's significant victory, winning 59 percent of the votes, is being trumpeted paradoxically as both a major symbol of Hispanic empowerment - a big-city win softening the doubt generated by recent losses of Hispanic mayoral candidates in New York and Chicago - and an indication of normalcy.

At the same time, analysts say the win is meaningful to Hispanics coast to coast as a political model to emulate. Yet to others, Villaraigosa's win is unexceptional because of its sheer predictability.

"I call it the hidden integration of the Latino presence," says Harry Pachon, director of the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute at the University of Southern California. "In a way, it's just as American as apple pie. Just as in earlier decades Irish, Italians, and Jewish politicians made it into the mainstream, Latinos are now experiencing that. One of the jewels in the crown of America's most populous state will now be held by a Latino."

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