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Victory of first Latina senator brings some voters hope

breaking barriers

Voters who decried Donald Trump's vile rhetoric against Latinos and women hoped to see his defeat. But the victory of a Latina senator could revive hope for some.

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    Nevada Sen.-elect Catherine Cortez Masto, (D) speaks to supporters after her victory at an election watch party in Las Vegas.
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Some women and Latinos who hoped to see a Donald Trump defeat are taking solace in a smaller election victory: the first Latina elected to the US Senate.

Former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto defeated Rep. Joseph J. Heck (R) in a narrow fight, becoming the first woman of Hispanic descent to take a place in the Senate. She joins three other Latinos, Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida, Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas, and Sen. Robert Menendez (D) of New Jersey in the Senate.

“I'm proud to be Nevada's 1st female and our nation's 1st Latina senator,” Ms. Cortez Masto wrote on Twitter as the results came in. “It’s about time our government mirrors the diversity of our nation.”

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While large numbers of women and Latinos opposed Mr. Trump’s bid for the presidency, noting that his derogatory comments calling Hispanic immigrants “rapists” and bragging about his questionable sexual conduct with women made him unqualified to lead the diversifying nation, it wasn’t enough to keep him from the Oval Office. To women and minorities who fear their rights could be curtailed by a Trump administration, the smaller victory represented a step in progress for putting more women and minorities in office.

“I will promise you this, I will be one hell of a check and balance on him,” Cortez Masto said while accepting her victory.

Cortez Masto was born in Las Vegas to parents of Italian and Mexican descent. While she doesn’t speak Spanish, many Latino voters don’t feel that the language skill is necessary to identify as a member of the community, and instead hoped to elect candidates who would fight for their concerns on key issues, as The Christian Science Monitor previously reported. In this election, only 26 percent of Latino voters said a candidate’s ability to speak Spanish would influence their vote, which became evident as Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine’s appeal seemed to wane.

Sen. Kaine's first ad for the Clinton ticket directly appealed to the Latino community, with the vice presidential candidate speaking in Spanish. But commentators suggested that demonstrated Spanish language skills were less important than policy positions. =

“It’s his first ad, so that’s understandable,” Marisa Abrajano, a professor of political science at University of California, San Diego, told the Monitor, speaking about Mr. Kaine’s ad released in Spanish. “But going forward, the expectation should be that they need to develop ads that actually communicate to Latino electorate what their policy goals are.”

Cortez Masto served as the state’s attorney general for eight years, and says she plans to fight for equal pay, immigration reform, and a minimum wage increase.

As Latinos become a growing, potent voting force, more are picking up seats in Congress and local government, shifting the makeup of those in power to more accurately mirror the electorate. Two other Latinos scored victories on Tuesday. Darren Soto (D) won a place in the House of Representatives as the first Puerto Rican to represent Florida and New York elected Adriano Espaillat (D) as the first Dominican-American to Congress.

“We need more women who are mentoring other women, particularly women of color, to say here’s how it can be done,” Cortez Masto told Fusion in an interview in the Senate. “It should have happened a long time ago.”

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