A documented characteristic of Hispanic voters is that no one political party can really claim us as all its own. For Latinos, it’s never totally been about the elephant or the donkey, as it has been about the man.

Now, it is also about the (begin italics) mujer (end italics).

With Hillary Rodham Clinton joining the ranks of presidential wannabes, the race didn’t just get interesting for Democratic voters — it got hard for Latina Democratic voters.

For the first time, Latina Democrats are being asked to weigh their party’s major candidates and choose between a woman and a Latino, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson.

If ever there’s a time when Hispanics may seriously be considered the swing vote, it’s in an election that pits gender against ethnic pride — especially since women now comprise the majority of Hispanic voters.

According to the HispanTelligence (R) research report, “2004 U.S. Hispanic Electorate: Profile, Issues and Projections,” women between the ages of 25 and 44 comprise the largest segment of Hispanic voters, at 23.21 percent.

This makes for an interesting scenario: With the candidates’ qualifications roughly equal, do Latinas support someone who shares in the experiences of childbirth, balancing career and family and patronizing discrimination or do Latinas support someone who shares in the experiences of living a bicultural life, having a common ancestry and on the receiving end of ethnic prejudices?

Either choice would prove historic. George Bush’s win in the 2004 election is attributed to his increased popularity among both females and Hispanic voters.

If the Democratic primary were held today, polls tell us that Hillary would be the one to face off against the Republican nominee. In fact, anecdotal accounts from across the country and throughout the blogosphere are showing that Hillary’s participation is exciting women of all ages and from all walks of life.

Emily’s List, a Democratic fund-raising organization that helps women candidates get elected, is marking the 2008 election as the first time in its 20-year history it will endorse a candidate for the White House.

Lisa Stone, a founder of the women’s network BlogHer, noticed among her roster of women that the discussion surrounding Hillary’s run for president has extended beyond the usual field of political bloggers.

Mommybloggers, who a week or two ago were debating how long to put their children in time-out, are this week in animated discussions about what having a woman in the Oval Office could mean.

In fact, the idea of Hillary running for the presidency is almost eclipsing her stand on the issues, or at the least, allowing her, in the minds of some, to start with a fresh slate.

Talk doesn’t dwell on whether or not she voted for the war in Iraq. Instead, people are talking about her electability.

Drawing on a past that involved her championing the rights of children, affordable health care and tax cuts for middle-class families, she emerges as the kind of woman most of us can relate to– someone who puts others before herself.

It doesn’t hurt her chances either that when she was nursing a broken heart over her husband’s Oval Office indiscretions, she set a very public example of grace and dignity, and came out of the ordeal a stronger, more determined woman.

Her tenure as a U.S. senator representing the state of New York placed her on various historically male-dominated congressional committees, such as the Senate Armed Services Committee. This balances out her resume of Washington life experiences that date back to her days as first lady.

In 2008 Latinas and other women will be key in helping this country decide whether it is ready for a female president.

If we’re lucky, the decision that will have to be made won’t be just about whether the country is ready for a woman commander-in-chief, but if it is ready for a woman/Hispanic ticket.

(Marisa Trevino, of Rowlett, Texas, is a freelance writer and publisher of the blog Latina Lista. She may be reached through mtrevino(at)airmail.net)