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A Few Bits of History in N.J.

From NBC's Ron Allen
A huge cheer went up when NBC projected Bob Menendez the winner in New Jersey. Then came a big sigh of relief. This race was a lot closer than the Democrats ever thought it would be. Another headline not making a lot of news is that he is the first Hispanic-American elected to statewide office in New Jersey ... joining a handful of Hispanic candidates elected statewide across the country. It will be interesting to see how much support he received in the Hispanic community. And whether his election suggests "Latino Power" has been a factor or if it was all just a good old-fashioned Democratic Party victory in a deep blue state.

Menendez certainly has an inspiring story: A Cuban immigrant who came to this country with next to nothing. He worked his way up through Union City schools, then to a local college and then into politics. He's an example of how the demographics of the nation are changing. You know the projections. The Spanish-speaking community is growing exponentially.

It's also been a year when a record number of African-American candidates ran for statewide office. So far we know Deval Patrick will become governor of Massachusetts, the second black leader to ever become chief executive of a state. Here I must say it's amazing, and disturbing that at this point in time we're still only watching just a few minority politicians literally make history by winning elections. But such is life in American politics, as in so many other areas of life and work. I'll leave that there.

Michael Steele looks like a loser in Maryland's Senate race. Lynn Swan also seems to have lost his bid to parlay a star-studded football career into a governorship in Pennsylvania. Harold Ford is hanging tough in Tennessee's Senate race. Ken Blackwell looks to have come up short in Ohio.

It's also interesting that some of these men are Democrats and some Republicans, complicating and adding more texture to the African-American experience in politics. Many black leaders hope it all means that African-American voters will no longer be taken for granted by the Democratic Party which most black voters tend to favor.

A couple of weeks back, I was watching Barak Obama stump for Bob Menendez in Hoboken, N.J. What a sight. An African-American politician, a senator no less, who is a rising star in his party, and a potential presidential candidate? The country has come quite a way. But Obama remains alone. Perhaps that may yet change tonight. And if not then, perhaps in 2008.

And yes, there are a lot of people in this country who fervently believe all this matters dearly. People who think of their views as quite moderate on such issues.

Meanwhile, here in New Jersey, the crowd is celebrating the Menendez victory with loud rock music. I suspect later this evening we may be hearing more of a Latin beat.