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A shifting of power?

As many as half of Black held congressional seats are in danger of being lost to Hispanics.

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That barely begins to describe the political turmoil in Southern California that is pinching one of the most sensitive of all political and cultural nerves: blacks versus Latinos.

Ground zero is the 37th Congressional District, one of the poorest in the state, which stretches from South Los Angeles to Long Beach and neighboring suburbs. The recent death of Democratic Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald is forcing a special primary election next month, and Latinos are claiming their right to take over the traditionally black House seat.

Blacks account for 25 percent of the district’s registered voters, compared with 21 percent for Latinos. But the Latino voting-age population outnumbers blacks by more than 13 percentage points. Latinos want it, and blacks are nervous about possibly losing it.

The stakes for both ethnic groups are huge. The black community must keep the House seat to maintain its political clout in Washington. Hispanics must spur the low-voting Latino population to register and vote, as well as earn national political influence that matches its population growth.

What is happening in California is the result of major demographic changes that are rippling across the country. In addition to this Long Beach-based district, there are 27 House Districts with “minority” majorities, with Hispanic eligible voters outnumbering African-Americans. The 2010 Census is expected to realign congressional districts to reflect some of those changes.

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