Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

GOP's surprising edge on diversity

By John Avlon, CNN Contributor
January 18, 2013 -- Updated 1409 GMT (2209 HKT)
New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez speaks at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, on August 29, 2012.
New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez speaks at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, on August 29, 2012.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • John Avlon: GOP senators, governors more diverse than Democrats
  • He says party has the edge in diversity among higher-ranking offices
  • Avlon says GOP has trouble attracting black, Hispanic voters
  • He adds that among members of House, GOP diversity sorely lacking

Editor's note: John Avlon is a CNN contributor and senior political columnist for Newsweek and The Daily Beast. He is co-editor of the book "Deadline Artists: America's Greatest Newspaper Columns." He is a regular contributor to "Erin Burnett OutFront" and is a member of the OutFront Political Strike Team. For more political analysis, tune in to "Erin Burnett OutFront" at 7 ET weeknights.

(CNN) -- Everybody knows the Republican Party is basically an all-white bastion, right? After all, even Colin Powell condemned the "dark vein of intolerance" that has flowed through his party since the post-civil rights era political realignment.

John Avlon
John Avlon

Now with President Barack Obama leading the Democrats into a second term -- buoyed by overwhelming victory margins among African-Americans and Hispanics -- it's clear the GOP has some serious catching up to do.

This is why it might surprise you to hear that Republicans are by far the more diverse party when it comes to statewide elected officials such as senators and governors. On this front, they leave Democrats in the dust. And that's why the GOP actually has a greater depth of diversity on their potential presidential bench looking to 2016 and beyond.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



It's counterintuitive but true. Numbers don't lie. Let's start with a look at the governors, the traditional launching pad of presidential ambitions.

Among the Republican ranks is Brian Sandoval, the Hispanic governor of Nevada. The 49-year-old former federal judge took on a corrupt conservative incumbent and is now racking up an impressive reform record in his first term. Likewise, there is New Mexico's Gov. Susana Martinez, a former district attorney who remains popular in her state despite an otherwise Democratic tide.

Sen. Tim Scott was appointed last year, representing South Carolina.
Sen. Tim Scott was appointed last year, representing South Carolina.
Ted Cruz celebrates his victory in U.S. Senate race in Texas.
Ted Cruz celebrates his victory in U.S. Senate race in Texas.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is considered a presidential contender for 2016.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is considered a presidential contender for 2016.
Marco Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, is thought to be a potential presidential contender.
Marco Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, is thought to be a potential presidential contender.
Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina is of Indian-American descent.
Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina is of Indian-American descent.
Republican Brian Sandoval is the Hispanic governor of Nevada.
Republican Brian Sandoval is the Hispanic governor of Nevada.

How many Hispanic governors do the Democrats have in office? Zero.

Attracting minority voters a key GOP goal

America's Indian-American population is fast-growing and successful. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is one of the nation's most innovative governors, and the former Rhodes scholar is newly committed to making the GOP no longer "the party of stupid."

If he chooses to run for president in 2016, Jindal could make a major dent in the race and possibly emerge toward the front of the pack. There is also South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who climbed from the General Assembly to the Governor's Mansion, breaking a number of historical barriers along the way. In the past two months, she has appointed the first African-American Republican from the South to the U.S. Senate since Reconstruction (Tim Scott), and her husband was deployed to Afghanistan.

How many Indian-American governors do Democrats have in office? None.

Now let's move over the U.S. Senate.

The aforementioned Scott just was tapped by Haley to finish out Sen. Jim DeMint's term, making the former congressman the first African-American Republican senator serving since Ed Brooke of Massachusetts in the 1970s. He is also the only black senator of either party.

Likewise, the GOP is looking at two young new Hispanic stars in the Senate chamber -- Florida's Marco Rubio and the newly elected Ted Cruz from Texas. Interestingly, both men are of Cuban descent.

Presidential buzz surrounded Rubio almost from the moment he entered office after defeating the sitting governor, Charlie Crist, in a contentious primary. He has put forward an innovative immigration reform proposal in recent weeks, which could help shape national debate, and he's already decamped to Iowa to speak at a political dinner.

Cruz is a former member of the Harvard Law Review who donned the tea party mantle to defeat a powerful sitting lieutenant governor in a primary. He was born in Canada to an American mother, a fact that hasn't stopped the fast-forward presidential projection. At the very least, Cruz will be a real force in the Senate for decades to come.

On the Democratic side, the only Hispanic senator is New Jersey's Robert Menendez. While in line for the chairmanship of the Foreign Relations Committee, he has been beset by ethical allegations for much of his career, most recently the accusation that federal agents held off from arresting an office intern who was also an undocumented immigrant and registered sex offender until after Menendez's re-election. (Menendez has said he didn't know about any possible delay.)

Menendez might have influence, but he is not a charismatic figure. That's why the Democratic National Convention chose to highlight San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro at its keynote, rather than anyone more senior or nationally known.

Bennett: At convention, GOP leaders reflect U.S. diversity

The Republicans' surprising diversity edge when it comes to statewide elected officials cannot erase the very real diversity deficit they face below this level. In the House of Representatives, often called "The People's House," the disparity is stark.

The new 113th Congress is the most diverse in history, but that diversity comes almost exclusively courtesy of the Democratic side of the aisle. For example, there are 42 African-American members of the House -- all are Democrats. The Hispanic population is comparatively less skewed, with 27 congressional Democrats and eight Republicans. Among Asian-Americans, we're back to the lopsided totals -- 11 Democrats and no Republicans.

Watts: Diversity good for God and GOP

It is a historical irony and a barely slumbering scandal that the Party of Lincoln lost its edge on diversity in pursuit of short-term political gain by realigning the Southern states of the former Confederacy in the wake of the Civil Rights bills that conservatives such as Barry Goldwater believed were unconstitutional. The times when Martin Luther King Jr.'s father, like millions of other African-Americans, was automatically a Republican are a distant memory.

But Democrats should not rest on their laurels after Obama. Their lack of statewide-elected diverse Democrats is striking and could provide an opening for Republicans in the next generation (if conservatives don't keep alienating that community with anti-immigrant rhetoric and legislation).

The old stereotypes don't hold when looking at the facts -- Republicans have been quietly making inroads into communities of color, even if that hasn't yet registered in overall voting patterns. And rising Republican stars such as Rubio, Jindal, Sandoval, Scott, Haley, Cruz and Martinez are reasons for optimism as we look toward the future of American politics.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Avlon.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1626 GMT (0026 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1126 GMT (1926 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1231 GMT (2031 HKT)
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
August 24, 2014 -- Updated 0105 GMT (0905 HKT)
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2247 GMT (0647 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT