- The Washington Times - Friday, March 7, 2003

Republicans say yesterday's filibuster vote on federal appeals court nominee Miguel Estrada gives them something to point to heading into the 2004 elections.

"Senators who have been hiding behind the cloak of the leadership of their party, the Democratic Party, of this filibuster have actually had to come out from cover," said Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican and chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which is in charge of electing Republicans to the Senate.

Forty-four Democrats voted to sustain the filibuster of Mr. Estrada. Four Democrats joined 51 Republicans in voting to end the filibuster short of the 60 votes needed.

Mr. Allen wouldn't say whether voting against Mr. Estrada specifically will be used against Democrats, but he called it a "probing of their defenses."

"For those who are opposed, they can explain to their constituents. And they will have to explain to their people back home whether that's in Little Rock, whether that's in any other state," Mr. Allen said, pointing to the capitals of states such as Louisiana, California and Florida where a vote against Mr. Estrada might resonate with the electorate.

Mr. Estrada is a Honduran immigrant, and Republicans hope that Democrats who supported the filibuster and come from states with large Hispanic populations pay a price for opposing him.

In New York, the chairman of the state Republican Party proposed that Mr. Estrada move to New York to challenge Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, in the 2004 election.

"What Senator Chuck Schumer did leading the fight against Miguel Estrada was wrong and appalling and he should be held accountable," Sandy Treadwell said. "I am going to ask Miguel Estrada to return home to New York and run against Chuck Schumer for the United States Senate."

Republicans have promised to hold more votes on Mr. Estrada in the future, and one aide said the more votes the better.

"The more votes we have, [then] it gets to where someone could say 'Senator X voted against an Hispanic judge 12 times,' " the aide said.

Still, those Democrats who voted to block Mr. Estrada from receiving a vote on the Senate floor said they are comfortable with their decision. They say that numerous Hispanic groups and officials also opposed Mr. Estrada's nomination.

Sen. Jon Corzine, New Jersey Democrat and chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, pointed to Rep. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, a member of the House Democratic leadership, for support.

"In New Jersey, I saw Bob Menendez standing on the floor of the United States Senate while we were voting. He's the single most credible Hispanic in New Jersey, maybe in the country," Mr. Corzine said. "I know how he stands, and his view is that an individual ought to answer questions."

Democrats argued that they opposed Mr. Estrada's nomination because he refused to answer questions at a 2002 confirmation hearing, which they said has made him a "stealth nominee."

It is debatable whether voters in general pay attention to judicial nominees, though it does rally both parties' bases.

Still, Republicans say the Estrada nomination may help them generally with Hispanic voters.

Ed Goeas, a Republican pollster, said it provides an opportunity for outreach to Hispanic voters.

"I think it's something that can certainly be a broad-brush stroke with the White House reaching out to the Hispanic community, and something that will leave a bad taste in many Hispanics' mouths by how partisan this was," Mr. Goeas said.

Sergio Bendixen, a Democratic pollster based in Miami who has conducted polls of Hispanic voters, said the issue is now getting prominent coverage in Spanish-language news outlets including being the top story in Univision's evening newscast yesterday. And he said the Estrada issue may help President Bush among Hispanics.

But Mr. Bendixen doubted it would come back to haunt Democrats. "I don't think a senator, if they vote against his nomination, is going to pay any kind of price for it," he said.

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