Theories of race and representation suggest that the racial/ethnic group composing a majority of the electorate gains co-ethnic representation, contrasting with both observational evidence and party-based understandings of who gets elected to Congress. I reconcile these notions by examining the emergence and success of over 7,200 White, Black, Latino, and Asian American congressional candidates from both the Democratic and Republican parties from 2006-2016. I find race plays a dominant role in determining who seeks office and who wins primary elections, and that incumbents are more likely to face a challenge from a non-co-ethnic when there is a “mismatch” between incumbent race and district demographics. Regardless of nominee race, however, partisanship determines general election outcomes. Using a regression discontinuity approach that leverages close primary elections, I find no evidence that minority candidates face a penalty after winning their party’s nomination. These analyses clarify the distinct roles of race and party in producing contemporary election results, and outline the conditions necessary to advance representational equality.
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