El Paso teacher Ed Bolanos and former Rep. Ciro Rodríguez are challenging Mr. Bonilla. Still, Republicans say they are not worried about keeping Mr. Bonilla's seat.
"The new 23rd District will allow Henry Bonilla to represent his childhood neighborhood and his mother in the next Congress. He has strong roots in the district, and his influential position as an Appropriations Subcommittee chairman has given him a lengthy record of accomplishments to take back to voters," says the NRCC's Mr. Burgos. "While Henry Bonilla has several million to spend to get his message out, Ciro Rodríguez faces the tall order of building a successful campaign in a short time. After initially saying he was withdrawing from the race for family and financial concerns, Mr. Rodríguez said that he was remaining after all. Republicans say his "flip flopping" will hurt him in November.
"Ciro Rodríguez is so desperate to return to Congress that he's oblivious to the fact that his fellow Democratic voters have already rejected him twice in the last years," said Mr. Burgos. Mr. Rodríguez lost to now-Rep. Henry Cuéllar (D-TX) in 2004 in a hotly contested race where allegations of fraud were tossed about, and then later lost a rematch. Democratic analysts nonetheless believe that the national souring on Iraq and what they say is an anti-incumbency wave against Republicans will help them, and Mr. Rodríguez in particular, catch up in fundraising.
In many districts without Hispanic candidates but with large Hispanic populations, both parties are chasing the elusive but traditionally Democratic-leaning demographic. For example, Rep. Richard Pombo is a conservative Republican who represents a moderate district in the Central Valley of California. While there is small challenge from write-in candidate Dina Padilla, Democrat Jerry McNerney poses a threat – and his wife, Mary, is of Mexican-American descent in a 30 percent Hispanic district. The district was already a leaner – President Bush won that part of the state by just 3 percentage points in 2004 – and Mr. Pombo has been dogged by his ties to lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Mr. DeLay. Plus, Mr. Pombo was the only member of Congress from the region last December to vote for a House immigration bill that has been criticized as being too harsh on immigrants.
"Immigration will most definitely play a role in the elections this year," says Michelle Waslin, immigration policy analyst at the National Council of La Raza. "There are legislators out there who people know are not serious about passing a comprehensive immigration reform, even though that's what the president wants and what most Americans want. The American public is very smart and they will take notice of those who aren't doing anything about the issue."
One race where immigration is a significant factor is Arizona's 8th Congressional District, which stretches from Tucson to the Mexican border. It's 20 percent Hispanic, but it also sees more than its share of illegal border crossings and one of the first homes for the anti-immigrant group The Minutemen. Republican Jim Kolbe, a moderate, is vacating his seat after 22 years, and while a Democrat has not represented the district since 1984, several polls show it leaning Democratic, although others say it's a "complete toss up."
Hispanic voters could also be power brokers in Colorado's 4th District, where incumbent Republican Marilyn Musgrave is facing a significant challenge from Democrat Angie Paccione. They are running neck-and-neck in a district with a 14 percent Hispanic population. Also in Colorado, the 7th District, represented by vacating incumbent Republican Bob Beauprez, is trending Democratic. Mr. Beauprez won the seat by only 121 votes, and Hispanics make up close to 13 percent of the district's population.
Analysts are also looking at tight House races in Arizona, where Republican J.D. Hayworth is in a 15 percent Hispanic district, and in Nevada, where Republican John Porter is in a 13 percent Hispanic district. They are also keeping an eye on Republican incumbents in Connecticut – Nancy Johnson (8 percent Hispanics in her district) and Chris Shays (20 percent) – and south Florida – Clay Shaw (nearly 40 percent).
Amid all the talk of tight races, several Democratic Hispanics in the House are running without any major party opposition: Californians Xavier Becerra and Ms. Solís, and Texans Charlie González and Silvestre Reyes.
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