With the 2008 presidential election still more than a year away, 15 out of 22 Democratic Latino members in the House have picked their candidates. Of the two Democratic senators, only Robert Menendez of New Jersey has stated his selection, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

Clinton has also garnered support of seven Hispanic House members, four of them women. Three of the latter are from California and one from New York.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is backed by three House veterans, two from Texas and one from Arizona. Also with Hispanic endorsers are Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd (two), former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards (two) and Sen. Barack Obama, who is supported by a fellow legislator from Illinois, Luis Gutierrez.

All five Republican House members have revealed their selections. The three Florida members back Arizona Sen. John McCain, while the two others, from Puerto Rico and California, are in the camp of former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

GOP Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida has yet to state his preference.

Fabiola Rodriguez-Ciampoli, director of Hispanic Communications for Clinton, told Hispanic Link News Service that Clinton is favored by Hispanics because of her long commitment to helping the community.

Similarly, Jacob Ritvo, an aide to California Rep. Grace Napolitano, commented that his boss backs Clinton because she has been a strong advocate for Latinas “all along” going back to when Bill Clinton was president.

Another Californian, Rep. Hilda Solis, who will co-chair Clinton’s Environmental and Energy Task Force and her National Hispanic Leadership Council, agreed, stating, “I am choosing the candidate with the experience and strength to bring the change that America needs.”

Larry Sabato, director of the Center of Politics at the University of Virginia, told Hispanic Link that early on he expected Richardson to capture most of the Hispanic support. “But that’s not the way things panned out for a variety of reasons — mainly his surname,” Sabato said.

“I’ve had a chance to talk to a wide variety of voters, including Hispanic voters, in New Mexico. They all knew Bill Richardson. I was stunned that in neighboring Arizona so many people didn’t know Bill Richardson was Hispanic. That was also true three months ago when I was in Nevada.”

Three of the eight Democratic candidates have no endorsements from Hispanics in Congress. They are Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel.

(Mario Aguirre is a reporter with Hispanic Link News Service in Washington, D.C.)