Florida Sen. Mel Martinez's resignation closes the latest chapter in the Republican Party's tumultuous, decade-long effort to woo the nation's Hispanic voters.
The Cuban-American's impending departure could leave no Hispanic Republicans in the Senate and three in the House — compared to 21 Democrats in Congress — and a sense that the national GOP is at a major crossroads with the nation's fastest-growing demographic group.
Although most Hispanics outside of Florida have long leaned Democratic, the Republican Party earned the trust of many at the beginning of the decade by tapping into socially conservative, religious and pro-business sentiment. Martinez both rode and propelled that wave.
"He symbolized trying to reach out to Latinos and being more moderate," said Marisa A. Abrajano, a University of California, San Diego professor and co-author of an upcoming book on Hispanic political behavior in the U.S.
But the heated rhetoric over illegal immigration in 2006, followed by the loss of many Republican moderates, and most recently the GOP's failed opposition to Justice Sonia Sotomayor's Supreme Court nomination have helped drive away many Hispanic voters. Martinez, as senator and briefly as head of the party, tried to temper the anti-immigrant language, and he bucked his party by voting for Sotomayor, who is of Puerto Rican descent. Yet, in the end, few in Washington followed his lead. READ FULL STORY