Ms. Madrid told Hispanic Business that she is focusing not only on being the state's top law enforcement official and a native New Mexican Hispanic, but is pushing her opponent's ties to President Bush. President Bush has been described as the elephant in the room this year by analysts who view the crisis in Iraq as the GOP's biggest obstacle in keeping the majority in both houses of Congress.
The war has been playing prominently in another key race, that of Democratic Senator Robert Menéndez of New Jersey, who was appointed last January by Governor Jon Corzine to complete the last year of Corzine's Senate term. Pitted against Mr. Menéndez is Republican state Senator Tom Kean, Jr., the son of a popular former governor. While both candidates agreed on many issues, they part ways on Iraq, with Mr. Kean saying he would have voted to authorize the war in Iraq. In contrast, Mr. Menéndez, one of only three Hispanic U.S. senators, has said that one of the most important votes of his political career came in 2002 against authorizing a war in Iraq.
A majority of the state's voters oppose the war. A recent poll by Farleigh Dickinson University found Mr. Menéndez and Mr. Kean running neck-and-neck, but the numbers for Mr. Menéndez skyrocket with the "mere mention" of Iraq. More than half of the respondents said their views on the Senate election were "very strongly" influenced by national issues, such as Iraq, and that with Iraq in the equation Mr. Menéndez takes an eight-point advantage, 44 percent to 36 percent, over Mr. Kean.
"There's been a lot of talk about Bush and Iraq being a drag on Republican congressional candidates," says FDU survey analyst Dan Cassino. "If people are thinking about Iraq when they go to the polls, Kean is in deep trouble. The Menéndez strategy has been to link his opponent to the unpopular president."
Still, Mr. Cassino adds, the incumbent's association with Governor Corzine, who has had a bumpy ride as a new governor, might tarnish Mr. Menéndez.
When the race started, Mr. Menéndez was little known outside of his congressional district despite having been chair of the House Democratic Caucus, but analysts say that had worked to his advantage in the early stages of the race. "New Jersey is a Democratic state more fed up with the Bush administration and the war in Iraq than it is with high taxes and the budget crisis at home," says Clay Richards, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. Mr. Menéndez has been raising more money than Mr. Kean has and the Capitol Hill publication Roll Call has the state "leaning Democratic."
In Colorado, freshman Democrat John Salazar – mindful that his district voted 6 percent more Republican than the nation as a whole – has carved out a niche in the House by voting moderate to conservative on several issues, according to an analysis by the Washington-based Cook Political Report. Mr. Salazar was an early target of the GOP since he won in 2004 with barely 51 percent of the vote, but the Army veteran is viewed as appealing enough to both the conservative and more liberal voters in his district. He has far outpaced his opponent, Republican Scott Tipton, in fundraising.
The Supreme Court last June played a key role in another Hispanic-held district, opening the door to a challenge by a former Congressional Hispanic Caucus chair. Seven-term Republican Henry Bonilla (R-TX) represents a district that the nation's high court ruled had been unconstitutionally redrawn in 2004. In a move engineered by now disgraced former House Majority leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), the district was recrafted by moving 100,000 Hispanics to an adjoining district, presumably making Mr. Bonilla's seat safer. The court said that violated the 1965 Voting Rights Act – the only district in the DeLay effort actually voided.
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