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Senator Menendez Speaks Out On Iraq; Kean Addresses Black Seniors October 31, 2006

Posted by notapundit in Congress, Politics, US News.
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CHERRY HILL, N.J. (AP)–Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez on Tuesday accused his GOP challenger of not having a vision of how to handle Iraq, returning to a theme that Democrats across the country see as a key in their hopes to take control of Congress.

Republican Tom Kean Jr., meanwhile, spoke to about 250 senior citizens at a Newark church, where he pledged to work to make the state more affordable, especially for those on fixed incomes, and to “root out corruption at all levels of government.”

With one week to go before Election Day, the candidates were racing around the state, trying to sway undecided voters and to remind their core supporters – such as those in Camden County, where Menendez appeared for the second consecutive day – to vote. Money and high-profile political allies are expected to continue rolling into the state where both parties believe they can win.

A pair of polls released Tuesday showed Menendez ahead. In a Quinnipiac University survey, he held a 49-44 edge; a CNN poll found he held a 51-44 margin – the first time an independent poll has shown the incumbent with support from a majority of voters. Menendez’ leads in both polls were wider than their sampling error margins.

Menendez appeared at a Camden County government-sponsored breakfast for veterans – an event held almost two weeks in advance of Veterans Day.

Alongside former U.S. Sen. Max Cleland, D-Georgia, a Vietnam War hero, he called for better health benefits for veterans and for the U.S. to remove all but a few counterterrorism-oriented troops from Iraq within one year.

“I have a clear vision and a plan to get out of Iraq and transition over a period of time,” said Menendez, 52, appointed to the Senate in January after 13 years in the House to finish the term of Gov. Jon S. Corzine. “My opponent does not.”

Asked later to respond, Kean said Menendez’s “approach is one that is supported by the very fringe of his party.”

After Donald H. Rumsfeld is replaced as secretary of defense, Kean said the nation needs a bipartisan solution “that will get our troops out of harm’s way as quickly as humanly possible. But we need to do it in a way that ensures that region does not dissolve into sectarian violence.”

The solution would include securing Baghdad, said Kean, 38, a state senator from Union County.

Kean elicited applause from the black audience at Metropolitan Baptist Church in Newark, a city that is overwhelmingly Democratic in a state where about 80% of black voters supported John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate in 2004.

One supporter, O. Henry McKenzie, 77, of Newark, a Republican and semiretired developer, said the candidate will get support in part because of his family. Kean is the son of former Gov. Tom Kean; his grandfather was a congressman.

“Many of us will vote for him because we hope he’ll be as good as his grandfather and father,” McKenzie said.

A Democrat, Mildred Chillis of Montclair, said she preferred not to reveal how she would vote, but said Kean “made a nice impact, because he addressed all the issues.”

The final days of the campaign are likely to be frenzied, with the national GOP last week pouring $3.5 million into Kean’s coffers. That cash infusion is expected to help add to the barrage of campaign advertising.

Seton Hall University political scientist Joseph R. Marbach said he expects both candidates to spend much of their remaining time campaigning in places where their parties tend to do well, and in key areas such as Bergen County, which is seen as a bellwether in statewide elections.

The campaign so far has been notable for its nastiness and for its procession of big names.

Cleland joined a list of Menendez backers that has included Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., former President Bill Clinton and Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. On Wednesday, Menendez was scheduled to appear with Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass.

Kean has had campaign help from former President George H.W. Bush, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

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